Agenda for the 21st Century
Child Support Agenda for the 21st Century
Parents should have equal status by default
Partners should know about paternity
All children should have been accepted children
Eliminate sex discrimination from child support
There should be no Treasury saving or state compulsion
Child support should be formally awarded to the children
Use a formula to determine the amount
Have closer ties between child support administration and family courts
Use a symmetrical formula that treats both parents similarly
Household benefits/credits should not be treated as income
Amounts should relate to spend on children, not wealth
Also - Exclusions from the Agenda for the 21st Century
Also - A method of judging proposals
Also - International Agenda for the 21st Century
Related topic - Can Child Support Agencies ever work?
Related topic - The 21st Century is making the reformed scheme obsolete
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Use a symmetrical formula that treats both parents similarly

What?

The 2000 Act's formula for the shared care case is seriously flawed:

  1. It fails to account for the costs to both parents of caring for their children.
  2. It fails to look ahead to an era when both parents are likely to be working, as a result of various government policies.
  3. It fails to learn from approaches used by many other nations and states to achieve a fair formula for shared care.

This item proposes a fairer formula, similar to that used elsewhere in the world.

The UK's current child support system starts with a 2-stage process: 1st, use a very limited amount of information to determine who will pay whom; 2nd, use much more information to determine how much will be paid. (See below). 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.

Many nations and states avoid this blunder. So should the UK - the same information should (simultaneously) identify who should pay whom, and how much.

Why?

The fault here is that the UK, unlike many other countries, uses a 2-stage process in finding out what people pay.

Stage 1 is very simple, and determines who pays whom. (It chooses the PWC & NRP). It uses very little information - basically the amount of nights of care of each, and if these are equal it uses Child Benefit to identify the PWC. (The law explicitly uses the word "mother" - Child Benefit law, and by extension child support law, is explicitly sexist).

Stage 2 then uses lots of information, and decides how much is paid by the NRP to the PWC. But, as you say, the amount of information used is being reduced, and will ignore the PWC's income. So neither stage takes into account the relative incomes, and hence financial-caring potential, of both parents.

My criticism of this is that the matter of who pays whom is critical, and cannot fairly be determined using less information than how much they pay. Why should deciding that John will pay Mary use only a little information, but deciding that the amount is (say) £50 rather than £60 need lots? Note that if John received Child Benefit instead of Mary, she may pay him instead, and the discussion would be whether this should be £50 or £60 or whatever. (Think what it would be like if criminal trials weren't about deciding if the person was guilty - that was decided by the prosecution service. Instead, the trial was about the sentence!)

Many countries use a symmetrical 1-stage (3-substage) process:
- How much should the mother pay the father while the child is not with her?
- How much should the father pay the mother while the child is not with him?
- Take the difference.

So a better off mother looking after the child for 4 nights per week may pay a poorer father. And why not? At the equal-caring point, it comes down to incomes, which some disagree with but I feel is sensible. If one parent is truly absent, this works like the current approach, and parents on benefits would have zero assessment, so the poorest lone parents would be unaffected by this. This method sorts out better off (or near equal earning) parents, and handles shared care better. It is designed for the 21st Century.

How?

Change the formula.

Note - it makes the terms PWC & NRP redundant! Many countries might use "custodial parent", etc, in their child support system, but that is the family court term, not a child support term. Or they talk of the "obligor", etc - in other words, getting back to the REAL meanings of the terms PWC & NRP, which is "payee" and "payer".

References

Relationship to other Agenda items
Parents should have equal status by default This item says "by default, both parents should have equal status & rights & responsibilities". It therefore follows that having a symmetrical formula for the "responsibilities" part is compatible.
Eliminate sex discrimination from child support The current sex discrimination at the "equal sharing" position obviously stops the formula being symmetrical.
Child support should be formally awarded to the children This is more loosely related. However, it is intended to remind parents "child support is for the child, not for one of you". Money typically still has to be paid from one parent to the other (even with a symmetrical formula) but this makes it clearer that it is not because of an adult's right to receive money, but it is an adult's responsibility to administer the joint money.
Other pages in this web site
Child support & Shared Care - overview This discusses the topic more fully, and provides the justification for this ite.
Case Studies - anomalies in the reformed shared-care formula These show in detail what can go wrong without a symmetrical formula.
Letter from Baroness Hollis, minister for child support

The letter rejects the proposed symmetrical formula.

My commentary shows why the rejection is wrong.

Commentary on the Letter from Baroness Hollis
Flaws with treating "administrative ease" with priority Shows that it is not vital to keep the number of variables to a minimum.
Potential lobby groups
Families Need Fathers This was one of the proposals made by Families Need Fathers to the Social Security Select Committee's report on the CSA Reform White Paper.
Other relevant external links
A FAIR SHARED-CARE FORMULA FOR CHILD SUPPORT This is the published statement of the symmetrical formula (an appendix to the Social Security Select Committee's report on the CSA Reform White Paper). Note that this statement simply shows that the formula should have two parts arranged symmetrically - what the father should pay, and what the mother should pay. It doesn't go into details of what either part should look like - that is a matter for other items.

Why is a Laundromat a really bad place to pick up a woman?
Because a woman who can't even afford a washing machine will never be able to support you.

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