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

A brief comparison of recent attempts to address the child support problem in the UK reveals that despite modifications over the last ten years, compliance has remained poor. This can largely be attributed to the Treasury driven basis to the original legalisation which failed to give many parents an incentive, and which combined with administrative incompetence, resulted in a failing and discredited system. Whether this can be addressed by a rhetoric of relieving child poverty and a £10 disregard for IS claimant parents is debatable. Without increased compliance the new formula is unlikely to be any more successful than the old. The continuing and accelerating changes in family form mean that the problem continues to be urgent and pressing for many families. The pre-CSA sexism that underpinned the court system, where a PWC was condemned to an almost inescapable poverty trap was not the reason for the original CSA but it was a problem that it was hoped would be addressed as an incidental benefit of saving the tax payer money.

But the most vociferous objections to the CSA have never been about competence, or lack of it, on which an NRP and PWC could agree, or indeed on the feminisation of poverty. Attention has focused upon complaints by disgruntled NRPs and their new partners (and families) who were able to capture public sympathy as perceived exorbitant amounts were demanded from the "soft targets" by a rigid and inflexible formula. In order to address these problems (including the retrospective nature of the legalisation) the formula became increasingly complicated. In order to deal with this, a new formula is to be introduced, but with radically lower sums anticipated, which are unlikely to reflect the true cost of children. This is "rough justice" once more, and it is debatable how long it will be before this is tinkered and modified in order to address the most glaringly unfair of individual circumstances. A most significant change and a real recognition of the reality of family life is the recognition of stepchildren as a responsibility for the NRP. This severing of the strict financial / biological link reflects one of the little acknowledged successes of the CSA 1991. Public attitudes to fathering are changing, and the value of their function gaining increased recognition, which only becomes disturbing when prioritised over mothering, which continues to be taken for granted. Pressure groups and men's groups have successfully aligned their rights with the welfare of their children [67].

While the lower percentages do not reflect the true cost of children, and the spin that everyone will be better off is both misleading and dishonest, it is possible that such lower amounts will result in better compliance rates ensuring more PWC and children will be able to take advantage of the more inclusive tax and social polices of the present government; i.e. WFTC, New Deal for Lone Parents, Child Care Credits, etc. A rigid formula will lead to injustice, and it has been demonstrated by CSA 1991 and 1995 that increasingly complicating the formula is simply not viable (a return to the courts has never seriously been considered). It is to be hoped that having learnt form the past, CSPASSA 2000 will upset sufficiently few, to became a credible and effective way of collecting CS from NRPs, helping to improve the lives of children.

Notes

[67] Amongst others the Families Need Fathers, the UK Men's Movement, the Campaign for Justice in Divorce, and the Equal Parenting Council

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