One Family welcome the launch of Sinn Féin’s proposal paper on the establishment of a statutory Child Maintenance Service. This proposal is an important first step in clearly asserting that the payment of child maintenance is not a discretionary gift, but a legal requirement, and the responsibility of both parents.
It is the State’s responsibility to intervene and assert and protect these rights in a systematic and equitable way, whether lone parents are in receipt of financial state supports or not.
A summary of their proposal is as follows:
- The proposal is child-poverty focused and highlights that the consistent poverty rate for children in lone parent families is 26.2%, according to SILC 2015 figures.
- Lone parents face a number of challenges such as unemployment; underemployment and they are often in part-time, low paid precarious work.
- They also have inadequate access to affordable and accessible childcare.
- Lone parents face significant barriers in accessing education or full-time employment.
- Changes to the One-parent Family Payment (OFP introduced in 2012 has exacerbated these issues and challenges.
- UN CEDAW 2017 Recommendation to Ireland to “Consider establishing a statutory authority and prescribing amounts for child maintenance in order to reduce the burden on women of having to litigate to seek child maintenance orders”.
- Child maintenance payments can play a pivotal role in reducing consistent poverty. In the UK there has been a 30% reduction in the poverty gap as a result of impact of compliant child maintenance payments.
Three Options for a Child Maintenance Service Model:
- Parental Arrangements – Parents willing to negotiate can avail of advice, support and information in agreeing amount. This option is not available in cases of domestic violence.
- Direct Pay – Situations where non-custodial parent is willing but agreement cannot be reached. This allows the Child Maintenance Service to calculate an appropriate amount. Once agreed, the payment is then made directly between both parents.
- Collect & Transfer – This will occur where the non-custodial parent refuses to engage. The Child Maintenance Service will calculate, collect and make payment. This should be an automatic option in case of domestic violence.
Other Key Points:
- The service should be free at the point of access.
- 20% penalty where collect & transfer is needed in order to incentivise payments.
- Strong enforcement powers which will allow them to take monies directly from all forms of earnings.
- Fully supported information & advice service established to be accessible to all lone parents.
- Strong links with Revenue to assist access to property details as well as income.
- Domestic violence training for all Child Maintenance Service staff.
- Fast track options should be available.
- In order to decrease poverty – child maintenance should not be calculated as means with regard to any state supports.
- In the UK the service costs €230 million per annum for 2 million lone parents.
One Family Response
Children living in one-parent families are living in the most socially and financially deprived homes in Ireland. Lone parents have the highest rates of consistent poverty, the lowest disposable income and the highest rates of deprivation. The government has made clear commitments to reduce child poverty and the formation of a Child Maintenance Service provides a clear opportunity for the government to increase household income for lone parents.
Current mechanisms available to parents to seek maintenance orders, and their subsequent enforcement, rest with those who are seeking the payment, placing an excessive burden on them. Parents must utilise the family law courts to legally seek and enforce these requests. Many parents find the court process daunting and overwhelming and require, often costly, legal advice in order to fully utilise the family courts system effectively. There is also inconsistency and a lack of transparency regarding how the courts decide how much maintenance should be paid by the non-resident parent. State intervention is needed to better support these families.
Some countries, mostly Nordic (Denmark, Norway, Finland, Sweden) and some Central European states (Germany), operate systems of guaranteed maintenance which involves state departments making provisions to ensure children actually receive maintenance consistently even where non-custodial parents are unwilling to pay. Countries such as the United Kingdom, Ireland and United States view child maintenance as a financial obligation on liable relatives governed by family law placing the burden on custodial parents in seeking maintenance arrangements. The affect of these two aforementioned approaches to maintenance governance and provision mean very different outcomes for one-parent families. Children have better outcomes in those countries where a guaranteed state mechanism is in place for the payment of child maintenance.