Shared Parenting Information Group (SPIG) UK

- promoting responsible shared parenting after separation and divorce -

Child Support Bill 1991

Briefing paper - what we said about the 1991 Act


This Bill appears to be badly thought out and contains potentially punitive and inflexible measures. Mothers and fathers groups, often at variance with each other, are now unusually united in their opposition to the Bill, which stands a very real chance of increasing animosity, whilst doing very little for children.

The consultation period was far too short and it is not clear what effect, if any, it had on the Bill.

By comparison, the Australian Child Support scheme was developed by a group including representatives from mothers and fathers organisations, who unanimously agreed the final formula.

False Assumption

The Bill is based on the false assumption that one parent does all the caring and the other merely pays maintenance. The Bill does not address the general situation where the children spend from 20-50% of their time with the so-called absent parent

The need for the Bill not proven

It is not proven that those who do not pay now, can pay.

In fact the figures in Vol 2 of the white paper show that 60-70% of court orders are never in arrears. The question we should be asking is "Why are there so few court orders ?" - could it be that the parents involved do not have the means to pay?

Removal of the term "absent"

Use of the word "absent" is offensive and reflects the "runaway father" image used to launch the Bill.

The great majority of parents care very much for their children and have not chosen to absent themselves. Whilst liable for maintenance, we must be aware that they may have wished to remain with their children.

Deletion of obligation to supply information

[clauses 6, 13 and Schedule 2]

There are many oppressive clauses in the Bill. It could be just as effective, but cheaper to operate and less antagonistic if the procedure were to be voluntary

Inclusion of right to appeal to court in the event of undue hardship or discrimination

[clauses 8, 19, 23, 24]

The formula is complex and untested. We must allow for the courts to intervene in cases where it produces undue hardship.

Inclusion of help with access costs

[clause 10]

There is a very real risk that the increased cost of child maintenance will result in some parents being unable to afford to stay in contact with their children - particularly when the parent with care has moved away. This amendment will prove that we are concerned about children - by introducing a safety net for access.

Deletion of powers of inspectors

[clause 14]

These procedures are entirely inappropriate for delicate family matters.

Payment in kind

[clauses 1,28]

Parents on access visits who buy toys and clothing for their children are paying twice. Agreed purchases of this kind should be offset against the maintenance bill.

Deletion of punitive clauses

[clauses 32-38 and 44]

By making the provisions of the Bill voluntary, these punitive clauses are not required. Fees should not be charged

Deletion of reduced benefit directions for either parent

[clauses 41, 43]

Clause 41 is at variance with the Children Act, where parents on benefit do not contribute to the cost of their children in care. Clause 41 discriminates against divorced parents and should either be deleted or complemented by deletion of clause 21(4) of Schedule 2 of the Children Act 1989.

Clause 43 has already been thrown out by the House of Lords and has no place in this Bill.

Adjust maintenance assessment to reflect the amount of time spent with each parent

[clause 1 and Schedule 1 para 1]

This Bill should reflect the concept of shared parenting embodied in the Children Act, by apportioning maintenance in direct relationship to the proportion of time the children spend with each parent.

Carer's allowance

[Schedule 1, para 1(3)(b)]

This requirement appears punitive and will only serve to exacerbate existing difficulties in relationships between parents.

Many parents caring for children work full time, making appropriate child minding arrangements. It would be grossly unjust to force the other parent to provide a meal ticket in circumstances where the other is capable of working, but elects not to do so.

Unspecified payments

[Schedule 1, para 1(3)(c)]

There is very real concern about a catch-all clause of this sort in primary legislation. Can we allow a clause which might result in an absent parent paying for the mortgage and passported benefits ?

Adjust payment to include costs of access after maintenance bill met

[Schedule 1, para 4,5]

The costs of access can be considerable - particularly where the parent with care has moved away. Once the maintenance bill is met, the formula should allow for the costs of access

Equality of treatment on reduction of income

[Schedule 1, Paragraph 9(b)]

This clearly covers the cases where absent parents intentionally create a low income for themselves. But the parent with care may similarly deprive themselves of capital or income, to gain state benefits or for other reasons. It would be unjust to apply sanctions only to one parent.

The clause must apply equally to both parents.

David Cannon

16 July 1991

Last updated - 7 July 1998

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