It is no surprise that parents are getting away with child maintenance avoidance

child support

On Monday the single parent charity Gingerbread published a report looking into the issue of child maintenance avoidance. It paints a pretty damning picture of just how easy it is for some paying parents, particularly the self-employed and those who support themselves with assets rather than income, to avoid paying child maintenance, or to avoid paying their full liability.

The report looks at the experiences of five receiving parents whose former partners were allowed to pay minimal maintenance or avoided it altogether, as a result of the child support system failing to take their true financial circumstances into account. One of the five parents, incidentally, is the mother in the recent Green v Adams case, in which Mr Justice Mostyn commented upon the ‘extraordinary state of affairs’, whereby it was possible for the father to be required to pay child maintenance of only £7 a week, despite the fact that he was a millionaire. The reason for this was that the father was essentially living off his capital with very little income, and the new child maintenance rules no longer include a facility to seek a variation from the usual maintenance calculation based on the paying parent’s income, on the grounds that that parent has “assets”.

Now, the report goes into a number of issues surrounding the difficulties of ‘pinning down’ a recalcitrant paying parent. However, what much of it boils down to is the same issue that has been there ever since the whole matter of child maintenance was taken away from the courts (for most cases) back in 1993: it took away control of the case from the receiving parent.

Under the old court-based system of child maintenance the receiving parent was in complete control of the case. Incidentally this system still exists for those cases where the Child Maintenance Service (CMS) does not have jurisdiction, for example most cases where the paying parent lives abroad.

Receiving parents could take the case wherever they considered appropriate, without having to rely upon the CMS (or its predecessor, the Child Support Agency) doing it for them.

No disrespect whatsoever to the employees of the CMS, but it is surely self-evident that in these days of limited resources and target-setting the CMS is not going to be able, or willing, to pursue a recalcitrant paying parent with the kind of determination that can be required to prove the true position of their finances. Getting to the bottom of the financial arrangements of someone who is being wilfully obstructive can be a hugely time-consuming and resource-demanding task, one that needs a particular kind of expertise that the CMS may simply not possess or have access to.

Under the court-based system the receiving parent could instruct a lawyer to handle the case for them, in accordance with their instructions, and the lawyer in turn could instruct whatever expert or other assistance was required, such as a forensic accountant, or an enquiry agent. Of course, this could involve considerable expense, but back in the pre-CSA days legal aid was available to all receiving parents who could not afford a solicitor. With the help of a lawyer and others the receiving parent stood a much better chance of getting the maintenance that they (and of course their children) were entitled to.

The Gingerbread report speaks of the immense mental and physical strain that many receiving parents go through having to fight their cases alone, including obtaining evidence themselves against the paying parent themselves, and doing so with little or no help. Unsurprisingly, Gingerbread says that many receiving parents simply give up. I don’t recall any parents ever giving up back in the day when I represented them on applications to the court for child maintenance.

Of course, the court-based system wasn’t perfect, and there could never be a guarantee even back then that parents meant to be paying would not ‘get away with it’, but I’m sure it is the case that it is considerably easier now to get away with it than it was then. Taking control away from the receiving parent is, to my mind, a fundamental fault in the entire idea of a non-court-based child maintenance system – and even if the recommendations that Gingerbread makes in its report are implemented, it is a fault that will remain.

If you want to see those recommendations, they are contained in Section 4, which can be found here. There is also an executive summary of the report, which you can find here.

Photo by I’m George via Flickr

John Bolch

John Bolch often wonders how he ever became a family lawyer. He no longer practises, but has instead earned a reputation as one of the UK's best-known family law bloggers.

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10 comments

Andy - June 28, 2017 at 7:23pm

Bollocks, clearly the author of this has reached his peak in supporting the gold digger PWC..clearly in support of CMS, Gingerbread and all other agencies..
What you don’t reflect is the PWC who are high earners in today’s society still can claim a healthy percentage of the disadvantaged NRP..
So is the question to be asked the author of this and clear support for such groups to hammer the NRP.
I note in the comments how mental and physical strain on the receiving parent living etc.
What you don’t say and very clear in the report of how the mental and financial burden by the NRP to be at the call of the CMS to support the children whilst living like a sewer rat with reduced finances..
Yet again very one sided report..
So the NRP seems to have a better life style, more money, better prospects, less emotional baggage and can start a new relationship..
Get a life, just look at the increasing suicide rates in various ages of men but forget about them the system has forgotten them but used as a cash point at will for the agencies to raid you dwindling earnings Gross earnings not nett..who thought that one up..With the HMRC raid as well.
Can you blame the non payers through legal loopholes as the self employed are blamed for reduced payments ..What if there core business was not high income generated or any self payments such as salary are low due to surviving…
All asserts that were once dormant now provided as income so what at least the person had worked to acquire such asserts…
Just ask how much are the directors of the Gingerbread group on or better still if they had to pay CMS how quick they would hide assets and fiddle salary income…then bleat about how much they had to pay..
The examples given in the prior report are so scripted it makes the” Jeremy Kyle” show interesting and informative..
Lying scheming Gingerbread..they are all narcissists..push the blame on others..
So is the HMRC to play second to CMS seems that way..

Andrew - June 28, 2017 at 7:34pm

The court-based system also gave the paying parent to point out that e.g.
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He had the cost of contact travel and if the court and the receiving parent really wanted to keep contact alive they would both want to allow for that;
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He was in business, not salaried employment, and if business was slow he could not bear the entire cost;
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He had other debts to .pay, often incurred to support the lifestyle of both parents in happier days, and those other creditors expected their money too.
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None of which cuts any ice with the computer and pen-pusher system we now have.

spin - June 28, 2017 at 8:39pm

How about we look into the reasons why men don’t provide for their children. I’m guessing two top reasons will be that court does not support fathers in contact cases so often in fact very often fathers have little to no contact with their children. Another reason may be that the father can see the mother is spending the children’s money on herself, with no accountability who is to know how prevalent this is.
So easy to attack the fathers, give them another kick see if you can get some more out of them before they kill themselves.

not declared - June 28, 2017 at 10:12pm

I must just say that the CMS are horrendous and actually has caused me more stress than actually
going through separation . I have a been told to report to hmrc , then I would get nothing .
Be thankful a some parents get nothing , sent 5 wrong letters for a mandatory reconsideration , and then
the correct one was dated the wrong year . Not realising sent to the tribunal and refused . waited another
5 months to then finally get a letter to say it is accepted, but no dates .
My Sars application contains 2012 letters, and god knows how many calls.
They are an organisation that ‘the computer says no’ . is enough to actually make you give up.
Infact I think that 75% never even knew what an appeal and mandatory reconsideration was .
Most of the time you are promised a call back . I waited 9 weeks once .
Act on fraudulent information to which you need to send your evidence in. Even with evidence
they then have to write to the offending party and let them put their side forward. e.g. costs for a taxi
for child contact , that was not happening . Letter to evidence it , 6 months later they need to write to
the offending parent before refunding. The refund is then calculated and added at £2 per week aprox
to somebody earning over 6 figs, and profits of much the same. No asking for the sum owed , in a lump, even though requested. Just tacked on because he offered £2 a month . It is an utter shambles .
Unorganised, inconsistant, and very uninformative . The most shocking experience I have had in 4
years, and can’t wait for the appeal, which will prob be backdated to end last year, not 3 years ago! who suffers , the children ! Reform is needed and the courts need to deal with it . Especially the judge
that said the csa are only allowed to deal with max assessment for top up . Ok lets wait for an appeal 3 more years to which my child that was 12 is now 15 and if H V C 2009 is anything to go by ………..
Let us finally finish the appeal when my daughter is 18 !!!!! utterly utterly a sad state of affairs.
Thank you parliament for ruling this and Mr Holman J I believe for upholding this in court .
Please can a high court judge somehow change this with new case law, or do something please .

Yvie - June 29, 2017 at 9:28am

There will be many dads in low paid work who don’t get paid when they are sick. As I understand it, the csa will only consider fathers on sick pay after 13 weeks. Can the author suggest how fathers can pay their regular amount of child maintenance on statutory sick pay of £88 per week, as well as attempting to live and pay their own bills. This is how false arrears build up and thus give organisations such as Gingerbread an excuse to label fathers as not supporting their children. You can’t give what you don’t earn. The needs to be commonsense applied to all circumstances.

Andrew - June 29, 2017 at 10:35am

John Bolch, you really are showing your colours with this post. Janet Allbeson, the Gingerbread employee who wrote this report clearly has a biased view of the world. The report is partisan in the extreme and barely covers the needs of the children themselves.

Perhaps, next time you’re sitting in your little house and want to put “pen to paper” you should think about the question “what is child support in a holistic sense”. Clearly, children require monetary support, however, who is to say that the level provided by a self employed father (when combined with a willingness for shared care) does not meet the children’s needs.

Perhaps, if you spent less time lambasting men and more time commenting on the inequalities in the family “justice” system that are obvious to all but those who “choose” not to see then we may go somewhere to helping the kids…

Shame on you.

Yvie - June 29, 2017 at 6:35pm

John needs to get into the real world. As a follow up to my previous post, my son was in a road traffic accident recently. He does not get paid when he is off sick. His pay packet for that week. the following week, and the week after that was £44 each week. He pays his ex. £60 a week in child maintenance and if a payment was missed she would be delighted to get him put on collect and pay. His situation was that he had no food in the house, no money, and he could not even provide for his children. This sort of situation is commonplace when fathers are in low paid work, when they can find themselves quickly sinking into debt.

JamesB - June 29, 2017 at 8:06pm

Pick the odd one out from the following list:

Gingerbread, Mumsnet, Women’s aid, Family Law courts England and Wales, CSA/CMEC/CMS/CMOptions, John Bolch, SFLA/Relate, Martina Navratilova, POA, Cafcass, mediators, the law society, the parliamentary ombudsman, your local MP, your local councillor.

The correct answer is Martina Navratilova.

The only one on the list that doesn’t hate men.

JamesB - June 29, 2017 at 8:11pm

I should have included and do add the mainstream media to that list. Example how they go on about Trump.

JamesB - June 29, 2017 at 8:20pm

I agree with the woman above that the system should be more open and transparent and meet its objectives. I do not agree with her on what those objectives were. The fault with the system is non resident fathers have not been listened to or consulted for generations setting up this amoral immoral robin hood type system which expects men to pay to have their children stolen from them for no good reason to be brought up with another man as father and no rights towards them other than to pay. Well dodgy.

What would I do, apart from not starting from here? Well, scrap CSA/CMEC/CMS/CMOptions, put CM back to the courts and make pre nups and post nups legal and to cover child maintenance also. Government have no place intervening between parents on one side or the other unless it is to take the child into care. Getting involved is calling the State Dad, reducing marriage, and encouraging women to leave the fathers and should be avoided. Such approach also disenfranchises so many people and is a very large significant factor towards the political instability existing ongoing and should be resolved, along with the poll tax, and selling off council homes, one of Maggies ideas which hasn’t turned out so well.

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