Collected thoughts on "Reform" by "Jimbo"

(These are proposals & analysis first presented in the NACSA Reform forum, by "Jimbo").


Checklist

There will be issues I have missed, but here's a start:

1. How is WHO pays WHOM determined? At present the NRP (usually male) is usually required to pay. This makes assumptions that are clearly not always justifiable. The new scheme should have a fairer (balanced) allocation of responsibility between both parents. Anything else could be (is?) accused of being more about penalising the NRP, and not based upon providing for the needs of the children.

2. How is the LEVEL of payment determined? Each parent should take responsibility for the support of their children, but they must also be able to live a life that is not reduced to penury by over-charging by the CSA or it's successor. The mechanism by which the CS load on each parent is determined must be simpler, transparent, fair, and balanced. It must not result in demands which are punitive rather than directly related to the needs of the child/ren.

3. How is ACCESS determined? Access is important not only for the parents, to satisfy their emotional requirements, but also to the child, to ensure that if at all possible, they do not feel "let down" (for example) by either parent. Any new scheme must address access. Access must be permitted wherever possible, but there are several issues, including the problem of violent or abusive NRPs, the problem of aggression of one parent towards the other being worked out by deliberately distorting the view of the child (usually practised by the PWC against the NRP), and others. There must be a thought-through means under which access is fairly managed. This is also related to payments: parents must not be forced to pay so much that they can no longer afford to see their children.

4. How is the issue of CHILD POVERTY addressed? If both parents are out of work, the CS payable by each will be zero or very low. Any scheme (see earlier posts re the "Pot" mechanism) that collects from each parent will require a "safety net" where the pot is topped up (presumably by the state) when parental input is too low to avoid child poverty. This may also be necessary when only one parent has a significantly lower income.

5. How can OVERPROVISION be managed fairly? This relates to the situation where one parent is able to contribute significantly more to the child than the other parent, due to high income. The overprovision should be protected so that the child benefits and the funds are not "leaked" to an unscrupulous PWC without benefit to the child. (This issue has also been addressed to some extent by the "pot" mechanism, but probably could take further tuning.)

6. How can the CSA help to maintain at least a polite RELATIONSHIP between parents? This is related to point 3 above, but is of broader scope. It is beneficial for the child to see parents work together, even if they don't live together. It teaches the child the benefits of compromise and co-operation (At the moment, outright aggression on the part of the PWC is rewarded, or so it seems). This may perhaps make for a better generation of people next time round who understand that relationships in all of life revolve around respect, compromise and fairness, not behaviour appropriate to Attila the Hun! If the CSA could assist in relationships rather than foster outright hostility, that would be far better for the outlook that the children have on life and their own relationships in general.

Discussion of principles

Introduction

This is by way of a summary of the ideas I have been discussing, an attempt to get it all into a reasonably concise and complete format and to identify any issues I have missed for further work.

Firstly, I should point out that I do not differentiate between marriage and living together. British law is based upon the Christian Bible, which, if you read it, defines marriage as an agreement between two people. Therefore, it is not necessary for two people to go through the civil ceremony for them to be married. Any child that a couple have mutually agreed to conceive is their responsibility, regardless of paper, civil or religious ceremonies. (Note, this still does not address the issue of female entrapment of "Sperm Donors", this still needs more work)

This all starts with a family comprising: mother, father and child/ren. For reasons that are not necessarily clear or definable, they decide they cannot live together. It takes two to get to this condition. No one is to blame, even if in the final throes of the relationship, there were symptoms such as disloyalty, etc; these are simply symptoms of a much deeper, and MUTUAL dysfunction.

Now if the parents, while not wanting to stay together, manage to make an arrangement that provides for the children, and to which they can agree, then that is the end of it. No CSA involvement, no issues for the parents. Importantly, no state costs, either.

The above scenario could be advantageous to all concerned, but it is very difficult to split up a marriage and for both parties still be able to work together and compromise. In this event, either parent, without taking or giving blame, can apply to the CSA for mediation.

The CSA requirements

The first thing the CSA must do is to establish a standard amount of Child Support funding that each child requires for its support and well-being. No Spousal maintenance, no relationship with how much either parent earns. The amount is to do with the child, and ITS needs, and must be decoupled from the parents' income or bills, for example. This may seem harsh, but the child/ren MUST be supported, the requirement for support outside of the "traditional" family is based on the choice of the parents to split, so they (the parents) must take responsibility for the situation, having enjoyed the freedom to decide to have the child, then deciding to split.

The only variations I would suggest as acceptable are (1) that the actual amount vary as the age of the child/ren and (2) that there be a regional loading to recognise that the cost of living in Newcastle is much lower than the cost in London. The first exception simply recognises the fact that a child costs differing amounts "to run" as it grows up, the second is intended to ensure that the cost reflects regional facts. In truth, though a parent will be expected to pay more in London than Newcastle, they are likely to earn more, so the regional loading is nullified to a large degree

The amount to be paid for each child, the Child Support funding, is halved, and each parent takes responsibility for one half. Again, no changes, no variations can be permitted. This is important, since both parents assumed responsibility when they decided to have the child, and so support is due equally. There is no allocation of PWC/NRP or any other names. Both are still parents; the child is still theirs, and their responsibility. Any state sanctioned blame and resultant apportioning will push the parents further apart and will ultimately damage the child/ren's perception of their parents, acceptable behaviour, and relationships in general.

The parents, under the auspices of the CSA, then open a bank account, in the name of the child, with BOTH parents as JOINT signatories of the account. They then pay their half of the Child Support requirement into the account, thus creating the child/ren's support fund. Either parent can draw on the account, so long as the child is under the age of majority or still at school, whichever is the younger. The catch is that any withdrawal MUST be made based upon the signature of both parents (i.e., the bank only pays cheques with both signatures showing)

Now, let's look at where this puts us:

1) The Child receives a minimum support fund
2) The parents both contribute equally to that support fund
3) The parents can only access that support fund as long as they co-operate.

This last point is more important than it may at first appear. If the parents can co-operate, the children see the vestiges of family stability, the parents are kept from out-and-out warfare, and if either parent believes there is unfairness, they are kept in touch with the other parent, and can address the issue face to face. This teaches children about fairness and responsibility.

If the parents are wealthy, they can put more into the child/ren's account, secure in the knowledge that their ex-partner cannot unfairly benefit, since each withdrawal has to be agreed.

Another issue that must be addressed is how frequently the account can be drawn from. I believe it is not too arduous, even in the event of a seriously unhappy split, to meet and agree once a month, whereas where the split is less aggressive, the interval could be shortened. This will have benefits for the child/ren's perception of the parents and the importance of compromise in any relationship

This has an interesting effect on access. It is in each parent's interest to stay within a reasonable drive of the other, to manage the meetings, and it is more difficult for a parent to refuse access, since by so doing, obtaining payment from the child/ren's fund will be made difficult (no access to child=no access to other parent=no signature). Also, since both parents pay the same amount into the account, there will be no financial benefit to be gained by either parent in denying access to the child. Although the parent with whom the child stays will benefit from their proportion of the fund, according to the time spent, the same parent will cover the costs of the child/ren out of their proportion of the fund, so the benefit is cancelled out.

In the event of a parent being unable to support the contribution needed to maintain their child, the CSA will make a loan available. This loan will be at or around base rate, and will have an agreed repayment period. This will allow the parent to spread the load over the agreed period and will avert parental poverty. If the parent services the debt, then the only cost to them will be an approximately base rate interest payment.

However, if they default, then there will be a mandatory increase of (say) 2% above base rate, and if the loan is still incompletely serviced at the date of death of the parent, then the CSA will have a high priority call (equal to the taxman, for instance) on the defaulting party's estate, to cover the debt.

That deals with the necessary incentive to payment. However, we must have a mechanism to keep the child/ren's fund topped up regardless of repayment failures.

In the event of the parent defaulting on loan repayments, the account will go into debit, and the bank will alert the CSA. They will, in turn, investigate the problem, and for the duration of the investigation and subsequent remedying of issues, top-up the account, to stave off child poverty. In this event, the CSA will act in loco parentis, and will sign off the withdrawals from the account by the other parent.

I considered retention of the Deductions from Earnings Order (DEO), but I have concerns about its effects on the person to whom it is applied. I do not believe it is in anyone's benefit, since it adds cost to the parent, and to the CSA (Admin), and it potentially stigmatises the employee ("Don't trust him, he's a 'deadbeat dad'", then the next thing you know, when it's redundancy time, who's name gets pulled out of the hat?).

I believe in the event of a refusal to pay, rather than a DEO, a "loan" ceases to be voluntary, and is paid direct to the account. Then, the defaulting parent is dealt with in the same way as any other defaulter. This reduces the number of different paths through the process, and makes it easier and cheaper to administer properly. There is also a clear and manageable path by which defaults can be fairly managed, without impacting the child/ren

So far, the suggestions have reduced the CSA's involvement. That frees them to become is an authority of "Last Resort", so that if things get difficult, or if payments are not made, the CSA are in a position to step in and arbitrate.

The CSA organisation

The current CSA monolith just won't do, however. What is needed is local, skilled and dedicated practitioners, who are more like relationship counsellors than the type of people we find in the CSA offices today. This new CSA team will work within a local community and will be responsible for "oiling the wheels", getting parents to agree, getting disagreements resolved and ensuring that what is recognised (unlike the current situation) as a fair and equitable system can be allowed to do its work without adverse impact to anyone. This way, draconian measures (prisons/fines imposed by the CSA/legal system, or leaving the country/suicide on the part of a parent) are not needed. Even if the wheels fall off the process completely, the CSA will loan capital to the account on behalf of the defaulting parent, so the child does not suffer at least financially, but the counsellors will be primarily responsible for keeping a self-policing process on the tracks. That money can be recovered at a later date by the mechanisms suggested above, or by more traditional mechanisms if need be, but whatever happens, the remaining parent pays their share, and the child is protected from poverty.

These new Counsellors will be local people, and will not work in offices, but (for example) as visitors to peoples' homes. In so doing, the high cost, doubtful effectiveness and resent-generating capabilities of the dreaded buff envelope will be replaced by real people who have a real job to do, who are motivated, even-handed, easy to get contact and FAIR.

They will not be easy to recruit, but they will, because of job satisfaction, stay in the positions they take up, and do a job, the quality of which is based upon their concern for fairness and pride in their output, not upon what a computer program demands. They will be able to manage things, rather than be managed by a defective and ill-thought-through process such as now happens.

More work

There are some areas that need further work. There is a problem with the exact amount a child requires to live a balanced life, and how the north/south, urban/rural differentials work, but work can be undertaken to quantify these figures.

I hope the system presented is better than both the dog's breakfast that is now in place, or the unfair, and disincentivising, percentage option being mooted. In particular, the soon-to-be-introduced "improvement" plan is subtly bad an at least one aspect. The definition of a percentage of a parent's income as CS seems, on the face of it, a simple and even way of working. However, it fails to address the lower earners in society. Below a certain salary, the percentage scheme makes it financially advantageous for a parent not to work.

This is bad for the CSA, ultimately bad for all of us to support a wilfully unemployed parent, but worse for the children who receive entirely the wrong message about what life is about.

I hope I have clearly summarised what has been the result of several months of thought. The mechanisms I have proposed are intended to allow parents to support their children in a reasonable manner after the event of separation or divorce. They are intended to be simple, transparent, equitable, and self-policing. They are also intended to counter child poverty, which is so common a problem after separation. There are a number of issues still to be covered, and I am certain that the ideas I have proposed, while answering requirements, can be improved. This depends upon feedback.