Child Support: A Comparison of the Old and New Approaches
by Susan Grace Jenkinson LL.M.
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Pre Child Support Act 1991

Child support was for many years an issue, which raised little interest or controversy, the sad fact being that few parents could afford to support two families, with awards made by the courts during ancillary relief proceedings, and were part of the overall package, often resulting in derisory sums with extremely poor enforcement [11]. When the court looked at the overall situation, predictably there were very few occasions where the resources of the original family would stretch to supporting two families, time and time again they opted to allow a non-resident parent (NRP), the father, to concentrate his resources on the second family, allowed the first family to be supported by the state. This became ideologically incompatible with the pre-CSA government [12] and meant, in crude terms, that the state was picking up the bill for a NRP's choice. The taxpayer was being ignored and the court had lost sight of the public interest Delaney v Delaney [13].

This pre-CSA position vividly reflects a deep and fundamental level of sexism. While a NRP could walk away from responsibility, the mother (PWC) was literally left holding the baby. Without a child support contribution they were unable to pay for childcare, so work, and even retraining, was simply not a viable option, except for the very few, who prior to having a family had a higher earning capacity, and had either continued to work, or at least had kept their skills current. (Childcare provision was very poor anyway, and has still not caught up with most of Europe). These problems were further complicated by a common consequence of the then benefit system [14]. The court would award small, or non existence periodic, payments in return for a transfer of the family home to the PWC, who on occasion extended the mortgage to "buy out" the other parent. They were now locked into dependency, unable to earn enough to pay childcare and a greater mortgage, while the other parent walked away with a lump sum and no continuing liability. Tellingly, and sadly, the PWC's best hope of moving their family out of Income Support (IS) and poverty is acquiring a new partner, and this remains the case today.

It is well know that problems of single parenthood are significantly reduced when there is an adequate income, and the Child Support Act 1991 became more of a treasury driven exercise than a crude attempt to address this.

Notes

[11] The number of lone parents in receipt of state benefits increased by 86% between 1981 and 1988. Regular maintenance had fallen from 50% to 23% in the same periods and by 1988, only 7% of the cost of supporting lone families on benefit was being recovered from "liable relatives". Davies G, Child Support in Action (1998) Hart Publishing p6

[12] PM Thatcher's abhorrence of a "dependency culture" lead in July 1990 to an announcement of proposals for change in the child support system followed by a White Paper Children First (1990) HMSO Cm3992

[13] [1990] 2 FLR 457

[14] Since addressed by the carrot of Working Families Tax Credit (WFTC), and the stick of much stricter regulations surrounding the payment of mortgage interest for those in receipt of IS

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Page last updated: 13 October, 2002 © Copyright Susan Grace Jenkinson 2001