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Expansions to challenging questions

Why have the terms "non-resident parent" & "parent with care"?

The reason for giving someone a label is so that you can then treat them differently. So how are people labelled PWC and people labelled NRP treated differently?

These terms are specific to the UK's child support system - they were coined for this system, they are stuck onto people by this system, and they have no meaning outside the system. They have nothing to do with who has other rights or responsibilities, such as parental responsibilities. They are not the terms used in family courts for who has residence, who has access / contact, etc. (The UK's original term "absent parent" has been replaced by "nonresident parent").

Even within the child support system, their purpose is quite narrow. For example, the PWC isn't the one who started the CSA case - it may have been started by the NRP. The PWC isn't the one who can stop the case. If it can be stopped at all (if it is a private case) then the one who started it is the one who can stop it, and that may be the NRP.

Their purpose is very simple - they determine who will pay whom. NRPs pay PWCs. PWCs never pay NRPs.

The UK's child support system starts with a 2-stage process:

First, use a very limited amount of information to determine who will pay whom.
("Who looks after the child most", and if that doesn't decide, "who claims Child Benefit", typically the mother).

Second, use much more information to determine how much will be paid.

So the fundamental logic of the UK's system has ruled out the possibility that this "much more information" could determine that the "very limited amount of information" has made an unfair or inappropriate decision about who should pay whom. The "very limited amount of information" is deliberately very limited, in order that the case can proceed quickly with stage 2. It doesn't include such information as income, ability to pay, or environmental factors such as the quality of house the child has with each parent, so it has nothing useful to do with ensuring that each parent supports the child in the most effective way.

Why should anyone assume that deciding the amount of payment needs more information than deciding the direction of payment? Why is this extra information needed to decide whether the father should pay £5 or £50, but not needed to decide whether instead the mother should pay the father £5?

Example: If a very wealthy mother and a poor father share the care of a child equally, the system will first take only "who claims Child Benefit" (typically the mother) into account, to decide that the father will pay child support to the mother. Then it will examine all the circumstances to determine how much. The possibility that the child and the taxpayer would be better served by the mother paying the father, hence giving the child a better life while with the father, and perhaps reducing the amount of (say) benefits being claimed by the father, cannot be considered.

Many nations and states avoid this blunder. They often avoid giving the parents such extra labels prematurely - they avoid the need for stage 1. They may continue with the terms used by the family courts, and call one the "custodial parent" (CP) and the other the "non custodial parent" (NCP) - but they don't necessarily assume then that NCPs pay CPs. Often, once they share care, a better-off CP may pay a poor NCP. Sometimes they use terms like "parent with more time" and "parent with less time", to enable them fine-tune the formula, but they can still avoid being constrained about "who pays whom".

Why did the UK devise this 2-stage approach? Probably because it fitted the paradigm in use - "Lone Mother on Income Support with young children + Absent Father with significant income". A scheme that avoided this blunder was proposed to government for consideration with the reforms, and rejected.

Why does the nonresident parent always pay the parent with care?

This is a trick question, see above! There is no deep social reasoning, nothing about what children need, etc.

The NRP pays the PWC by definition! The NRP label was stuck on one parent exactly so that this would be the paying parent. There is no other reason for having these labels. "NRP" is synonymous with "the one who will pay".

Why is child support specifically "money paid to the PWC"?

Why is it money? Many NRPs want to be able to divert some of the child support into gifts, investments, etc. There is nothing wrong with the logic. It may be part of some future solution. (The legislation specifically rules it out at the moment, and makes it clear that only real money paid to the PWC counts).

The problem is that they want to divert money after too low a threshold. They under-estimate (perhaps deliberately) the typical regular expenditure on children to pay for the goods and services they need. Perhaps they think that everything they pay over (say) £20 per week should be diverted. In fact, the typical regular expenditure on 1 child may be more like £52 + Child Benefit per week.(It is arguable how much of that needs to be paid by the NRP before any extra could be diverted). Better off parents would expect to spend somewhat more than this. Childcare can add quite a lot.

Why is it paid to the PWC? That is a good question. Some countries award it to the child. I believe this would be a good idea for the UK.

Why should taxpayers pay for other people's children?

This is a common common initial reaction. As a childfree taxpayer, I have had exactly the reaction "why should I pay for someone else's children?" But how far does this extend?

Tony Blair used the slogan "Education Education Education" during the 1997 election campaign. In other words "we will spend more taxpayers' money helping to bring up other people's children". He won by a landslide!

How much disapproval is there when Child Benefit is increased? Child Benefit is paid for out of taxation largely to people who don't really need it. (I'll duck now!) The poorest people, such as those on Income support (lone mothers, etc) don't benefit from Child Benefit, because their Income Support is reduced by exactly the same amount if they collect it.

I suspect that many, perhaps most, voter-taxpayers are perfectly willing to pay for other people's children if the circumstances are right. The wrong circumstances include:

  • The recipient isn't working.
  • The recipient is a careless mother, perhaps an irresponsible girl

The right circumstances include:

  • The recipient is a bit like the voter-taxpayer or his/her friends & relatives
  • The recipient puts in the hours working - and can't be called lazy
  • The recipient is a lone parent other than through carelessness, perhaps no longer a girl

Child Benefit is a benefit for voter-taxpayers. Those who can't vote, such as Royalty, probably don't collect their Child Benefit (although I have no personal knowledge of this!) Those who can't pay taxes, such as those on Income support (lone mothers, etc) don't benefit from Child Benefit, because their Income Support is reduced by exactly the same amount if they collect it. Child Benefit, like Education, are things that voter-taxpayers can appreciate paying for. In both cases voters could probably see the benefits to themselves or to people like themselves. They had a potential stake in the outcome, or their children did.

But the same logic may apply to child support - a different child support system may be an advantage to many voter-taxpayers, who can perhaps see "there but for the grace of god, go I".

How much is the idea of reducing the social security bill really driven by trying to save taxpayers' money, and how much by the moral disapproval of lone parents (especially lone mothers) trying to bring up children by themselves? How much is it influenced by visions of teenage girls bringing up their children? (Even though the average age of a PWC is about 35 and fewer than 1% of them are under 20!)

Why should (or shouldn't) parents pay for children they are separated from?

This follows from "Why should taxpayers pay for other people's children?" above. Voter-taxpayers often appear willing to, at least in the UK, if the circumstances are right. But even if the circumstances are right, and voter-taxpayers are, on the whole, willing to let separated parents off the hook, there is still at least one good reason parents should pay.

The best reason why parents should pay for the upbringing of their children is not the immediate reduction in the social security bill, which can't be judged properly anyway. It is for social engineering. It should discourage men and women from bringing children into the world that they didn't both want or at least accept. It should encourage them to veto conception if they don't want, or at least accept, any child resulting from sex. Once high quality male contraceptives - safe, reliable, unobtrusive - are available, it would be incredibly stupid to remove the incentives for men to use them!

A child support system built on this premise may be very different from one designed to save taxpayers' money.

Transferable social responsibility

The question was: "If an NRP relieves the social security bill by partnering a lone parent, why doesn't this relieve his responsibility for reducing the social security payments (if any) to his ex?"

I posed this as a joke. Unfortunately it also looks like a plausible proposal. (I often have difficulty distinguishing between child support proposals and jokes).

Perhaps any parent having a bio-child incurs (say) 18 child-years of child-support responsibility. While they remain in an intact family, they discharge the responsibility directly. If they separate, they then have X child-years of responsibility to discharge. They can do this by paying child support. Or they can do it by taking responsibility for a child other than their own.

What happens to the NRP for the child being supported by a step-father? He pays into a pool. What happens to the PWC who is not getting child support because her ex is discharging his responsibility to a step-child instead? She draws from the pool.

(Ouch! This sounds too much like Baroness Hollis's "Child support payments should be regarded as a statutory tax on fatherhood"! Except that it is a specially hypothecated tax on all parenthood).

There is no longer always a directness of payment from parent to child. This directness is seen to be important for many in authority - a child should get £X from that person. One reason for this is that it legitimises child support - it isn't impersonal taxation, it is specifically for that child, with all the moral weight behind this.

Page last updated: 5 July, 2004 © Copyright Barry Pearson 2003