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The domino effect - chains of child support

"I am a PWC living with an NRP - this is the 2nd time around for both of us. I don't get child support for my children from my ex so I rely on my new partner. He is having to pay lots of child support for his earlier children, at the expense of my children. Why are those children more important than mine?"

"I am a lone PWC. My ex now has a new partner with her own children - he is their step father. My child support from him has been reduced so that he can support his step children, even though he is not legally responsible for them and his new partner receives child support for them anyway. Why are those children more important than mine?"

"I am a lone NRP, paying lots of child support. My ex has a new partner. I know that because he is self-employed he plays the system and doesn't pay much child support for his earlier children. Instead, he benefits from the child support I pay. I can't afford to start another family."

If there is one thing worse than financial problems "caused" by your ex, it is probably financial problems "caused" by your ex's new partner, and especially their children that you had nothing to do with!

Overlapping cases

A single CSA case involves 2 households - the PWC's and the NRP's. But often one or both of them re-partner, and at least by anecdote it appears they often re-partner part of another CSA case!

Such cases can multiply the resentments felt, and often with very good reason.

The table below lists some of the combinations of "pay" / "can't pay" / "won't pay" that occur across the entire CSA caseload. (This article ignores households with 2 PWCs or 2 NRPs - these exist too, but don't appear to cause significant new issues).

  Bill doesn't earn enough to pay a significant amount
(about half of NRPs are in this situation)
Bill should pay a significant amount but doesn't
(many NRPs are like this)
Bill pays a significant amount
(perhaps a quarter or less do this)
Alan doesn't earn enough to pay a significant amount
(about half of NRPs are in this situation)

At best, in this case the CSA is spending administrative effort (and taxpayers' money) moving poverty around.

There may be a useful symbolic affect here where a minimum payment is made - many PWCs want some payment, even if it is a nominal amount such as £5.

 

This can cause household B considerable annoyance.

Betty, the new partner of Bill, may be quite vocal about the effect of a system that appears to be designed to keep her poor!

Alan should pay a significant amount but doesn't
(many NRPs are like this)
    This can cause household B considerable anger.

Betty, the new partner of Bill, may be quite vocal about the effect of a system whose incompetence she feels keeps her poor!

Alan pays a significant amount
(perhaps a quarter or less do this)

Alan is likely to feel that he is supporting a dysfunctional household B, not just his child Bert.

This is particularly true if the amount paid is "sharing his wealth" - it is pretty likely that it won't all be spent on the child Bert! Beyond the basics, it may be shared with Betty, Bill & Brenda too.

The case for "sharing his wealth" appears to be weaker when Betty is living with a new partner Bill.

Alan is likely to feel that he is supporting a deadbeat household B, not just his child Bert.

This is particularly true if the amount paid is "sharing his wealth" - it is pretty certain that it won't all be spent on the child Bert! Beyond the basics, it will be shared with Betty, Bill & Brenda too.

The case for "sharing his wealth" appears to be weaker when Betty is living with a new partner Bill.

This is probably the sort of situation envisaged when the CSA was created. Non-resident parents making a significant contribution to the cost of their children, and all of them doing so.

If the amounts paid are sensible, for example still leaving some contribution to be made by the PWCs, then it is hard to argue with a system like this (although people will, of course!)

Discussion

"Sharing the wealth" issues

The concept of "children sharing in the wealth of their parents" is again seen to be seriously flawed, even though it sounds good in principle. It doesn't work properly even when the child support payment is simply going to a lone parent household, but when it goes to a re-partnered household it is more obviously wrong.

Unbalanced payments

If all CSA cases involved useful and plausible amounts of child support money, then many cases would be similar to the green example above. A nation with a child support system that consistently worked like that could feel comfortable. But if only about a quarter of NRPs actually pay such significant amounts, the proportion of such examples may be very low. (If people re-partnered at random, fewer than 1 in 16 examples of overlapping cases would be like the green example - but people don't re-partner at random!)

"Marriage is the triumph of imagination over intelligence. Second marriage is the triumph of hope over experience."

Page last updated: 7 July, 2004 © Copyright Barry Pearson 2003