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The quotes provided are normally directly from the original article, but typically whole sentences and paragraphs are omitted, often without indicating where the omission is, but without altering the order of presentation. In some cases people's names are removed, and replaced thus "[X]".

Date & reference Extracts (not necessarily contiguous)

The Sunday Times

CSA urged teenager to sue father for school fees

Marcello Mega

THE Child Support Agency urged a teenager to sue her father to pay for her to go to one of Britain's most expensive private schools. Nicole Lavelle, 16, sued her father initially to force him to pay for her to switch from a private school in Harrogate to the exclusive Cheltenham Ladies' College. The case further estranged Callum Lavelle from his teenage daughter, but the Sunday Times has learnt that the court action was launched after an official from the Child Support Agency (CSA) suggested Nicole, rather than her mother, Belinda, should sue to avoid legal costs.

Politicians and lawyers yesterday condemned the agency, which has been blamed for a catalogue of mishaps, including a number of suicides, since it was established in 1993. Mr Lavelle also criticised the agency. Speaking for the first time since the judgment, Lavelle, 46, said: "It makes me laugh to hear Tony Blair talking about the importance of family values when a government agency and our legal system enables and encourages a child to sue her father and cause damage to their relationship that might be impossible to repair." Eric Scott, a leading family lawyer, said: "We seem to be politically in a culture that says we need to put a higher value on family life. It seems unfortunate then that the CSA, which is a complete shambles and is lucky to have survived so long, should encourage children to sue parents and our legal framework assists the process."

His former wife confirmed that the CSA advised her that her daughter should issue a writ in Scotland. She said: "They told me to get a lawyer in Scotland. I said I couldn't afford that but they said that as Nicole was 16, she would get legal aid and could sue her father."

The Independent

So should I sue my wife, then?

'This cuckoo stuff goes on a fair bit - a lot of children still say "Daddy" to the wrong bloke'

By David Aaronovitch

Here's a story to divide couples. Bloke sues woman for recovery of dosh spent on child who turned out not to be his. Whose side are you on? Discuss it over breakfast, but remember that the first one to throw toast or cereal at the other is disqualified. Meanwhile, allow me to assist in the discussion.

The facts first. On Tuesday, a 55-year- old businessman, Mr A, was given leave in the High Court to bring a case for fraud against Ms B. A quarter of a century ago, Mr A had a vasectomy - so it was something of a surprise (he claims) when, 12 years later and living with Ms B (now 44, which you'll want to know, despite its being irrelevant), along comes a baby. Well, it happens (though not to anyone I've ever met). She swears (he says) that the kid is his. They live together for eight years as Mum, Dad and junior, and then there's a separation. But Mr A, of course, continues to pay maintenance for Master A-B, until last year when, for some reason, he has cause to doubt the paternity of his son. Tests are done, and blimey O'Reilly, if for all this time he hasn't been shelling out for some other guy's nipper!

So no wonder, if Mr A's account is accurate, that he's fed up. But surely he's an arse to sue over it. And the judge is an ass for letting him. As one lawyer remarked this week, the bringing of such a prosecution in a matter of domestic deception "opens the floodgates". If, for instance, a man cheats on his wife and furnishes his mistress with jewellery and rent-money (I know this example is a little hackneyed, but time is short), should his spouse - or their children - be able to sue either of the cheats for loss of benefit?

Well, hold on a second. Mr A has got a point. Paternity is considered important under law in determining liability. The CSA is entitled to chase dads across dusty continents to extract maintenance for their biological offspring. You can, theoretically, end up in chokey if you don't pay your whack for your child. It would seem only a matter of natural justice then, that on discovering that you have been wrongly persuaded that you have a financial responsibility for a kid, you should have some possibility of gaining redress. What's sauce for the goose and all that.

How can it be fair to pay if it's yours and to pay if it ain't?

And there is the evidence that this cuckoo stuff goes on a fair bit. True, the alarming 15 per cent figure given for wrongly attributed sprogs in a survey not so long ago may have been called into question this week by genetic research, but even so, a lot of children still say "Daddy" to the wrong bloke.

So here's my question for Mr A. Did he really get nothing out of those 13 years of having a son, or the 11 years of having a spouse? Was there no time that he peeked into the cot and experienced a surge of joy, or helped with homework, or grew a bit because of the responsibility? What happened when the boy first smiled, first crawled, first walked, first spoke? Wasn't it worth £250,000? Maybe this vasectomised man was just lucky after all. His partner may have cheated him, but his son didn't.

Electronic Telegraph

Mothers can refuse DNA tests on children

By Philip Johnston, Home Affairs Editor

MEN who want to use DNA tests to prove paternity could be thwarted after a High Court judge ruled that mothers could legally refuse blood samples to be taken from their children. Mr Justice Wall, a Family Division judge, said a man could obtain a court order for the test in a civil case where, for example, he might wish to be established in law as his child's father in order to pursue an application for a parental responsibility or contact order. However, a loophole in the Family Law Reform Act meant the courts could not compel mothers to consent to the sample.

The loophole could be closed by new powers to allow testing on hair or saliva samples but they have never been brought into force. The Lord Chancellor's Department said the Government planned to trigger the provisions "when parliamentary time allows".

Sunday Times

A father explains to Margarette Driscoll why, in a landmark case, he is suing his former lover for the cost of bringing up a child who turned out not to be his

He's no son of mine

The details written on your birth certificate stay there for life. Thus, in future, whenever he needs to produce his birth certificate - to apply for a passport, say, or marry - a little boy growing up in the north of England will see a name in the space marked "father" that is bound to cause him pain. The man loved and cared for Andrew until he was seven, believing him to be his son. When he and the boy's mother split up, however, he discovered his "son" was the result of his former lover's relationship with another man.... Last week, in a legal first, he was given leave by the High Court to sue his former lover for fraud. The case should be heard in early summer and he is seeking damages of £250,000 to cover the costs of bringing up the child and as compensation for his emotional distress.

It is tempting to assume that Mr X - let's call him Keith - is an unfeeling bastard (none of the parties are allowed to be publicly named to protect the child). What kind of man, you might ask, could demand back every penny he spent on a child he admits he loved? He and the boy played and travelled together, gardened and kept bees and mucked about making things in the shed; in short, built a classic father-and-son relationship of love, trust and mutual reliance. Yet what kind of woman could stand by and watch such a relationship grow, knowing it was built on a lie? Keith believes, rightly or wrongly, that as a successful and wealthy man he was cynically used as a meal ticket.

"It's one thing to doubt, but to open the envelope and read "Mr A cannot be the father of child B" was awful. I felt a jumble of emotions; anger, confusion, sadness." After that he refused all Pippa's financial demands. She called in the Child Support Agency, continuing to insist he was Andrew's father. Several court hearings later, a blood test established conclusively that the two were not related. The final act was to have Andrew's birth certificate amended. Though Keith's name still appears on it, an official addendum warns readers to ignore it.

This Is Lancashire

Hamper agent stole from her pals

by Wendy Barlow

A HAMPER agent who pocketed almost £4,000 cash which workmates had saved up to treat themselves at Christmas, is behind bars.

Paul Hague, defending, said [X] had been hard-working and responsible, and began the offences as borrowing. Both she and her second husband were making payments through the Child Support Agency and had considerable money problems. Out of their income of £280, £100 a week was going on child maintenance and although the defendant was working full time at a biscuit factory, she also had a cleaning job and was cleaning for neighbours as well. Her husband threw in his job in a fit of pique when the CSA increased his payments.

The Times

DNA threat to absentee fathers


MEN who refuse Child Support Agency demands for a DNA test will be automatically ruled to be a child’s father, under new parenting laws unveiled yesterday.
The CSA has been given wide-ranging powers to make sure there is no hiding place, at home or overseas, for fathers who abscond. Soldiers serving abroad will be particular targets of the clampdown aimed at forcing fathers to face up to their responsibilities, Alistair Darling, the Social Security Secretary, said.

Crucially, a man will be presumed to be the father if he refuses to take a DNA test or accept a positive result. Mr Darling described the new powers as “robust but necessary”. But Tony Coe, of the Equal Parenting Council, which defends the rights of fathers, accused the Government of promoting “cheque-book parenting”.

Electronic Telegraph

False DNA test led father to reject daughter

By Macer Hall

A DNA testing firm used by the Child Support Agency has admitted incorrectly telling a man that he was not the father of his daughter. Cellmark Diagnostics, one of seven Government-approved laboratories performing up to 10,000 paternity tests each a year, says staff "misinterpreted" the results in the case. A laboratory error occurred despite the company's claim that its tests were "99.99 per cent" accurate.

The father is now facing a legal battle to gain access to the child after refusing to acknowledge her for nine months because of the incorrect result. He has also received a demand from the CSA for maintenance for the child for the same period. Believing the child not to be his, he stopped seeing his daughter despite protests from the mother. Last November, however, he was contacted by the CSA, which suggested he took another test. This time the test, by another company, showed that he was the father. "The mother is refusing to let me see my daughter because I walked out on the child. I have now got to go to court to get access to her," he said. "I can't say I blame her, although I assumed that the test result was the truth. I have seen my daughter for two one-hour sessions since the second test results came through; she doesn't recognise me any more. I accept that mistakes can happen in life but this has created a horrible situation for us all. It is awful."

Cellmark Diagnostics wrote to the father admitting the mistake after being contacted by the CSA. The letter, signed by David Hartshorne, the sales and business manager of Cellmark Diagnostics, admitted that "an extremely serious error" had taken place.... The father said that Cellmark Diagnostics, which had a five-year contract to carry out paternity tests for the CSA until last year, had offered financial compensation for the mistake. He was still discussing the claim with the company.

Milton Keynes on Sunday

CSA urged to review attitude on homeless single father front

THE Child Support Agency (CSA) is being challenged over its treatment of homeless single fathers. The city currently deals with more than 1,200 cases of homelessness each year, with an increasing number stemming from broken relationships. Laura Welch, manager of Shelter's housing aid centre in Milton Keynes, said: "Women with children are usually the ones left in possession of the family home and, in any case, receive help and benefits to enable them to rent somewhere suitable. "Single fathers, however, have a much more difficult time. They are often financially straitened because of child support payments and can't afford to rent reasonable premises. "The result is they have nowhere at all where the children they are supporting can stay with them."

The CSA can claim between 30 and 40 per cent of a single or divorced father's income. Matt Cornish of Shelter said: "A whole new breed of homeless has evolved. There are a lot of single fathers who have had to quit their homes in favour of the mother of their child. "Although they are in full-time employment, such are the penalties exacted by the CSA that they can't afford to buy or rent another home." MP Brian White said: "Not only are there fewer marriages, more of them are breaking down. Priority must be given to children to have a stable home, but single fathers must not be forgotten."

CSA spokeswoman Angela Chadda said: "The aim of the CSA is to ensure parents are responsible for their children, which means they are entitled to regular financial support. I appreciate that many of the non-resident parents may be men in full-time employment, but fairness or politics are not really our concern."

News Agency Ananova

Website aims to name child support defaulters

A divorce website is considering naming and shaming parents who refuse to pay child support. Divorce Online said 85% of its users would like to see defaulters featured on the site. Operations director Mark Keenan said if further research showed the practice made people pay up, he would consider naming and shaming on the site.

But a spokeswoman for the Child Support Agency said it could not take part in such a scheme and saw many potential problems. "Naming and shaming non-resident parents who don't pay would breach the CSA's legal obligations to its clients under data protection legislation. "It would also breach the legal duty of confidentiality the agency has to all its clients," she said. She added that giving out the information on a website could invade privacy and be open to a challenge under the Human Rights Act .


Former partner tries to stop abortion

A man who is taking legal action to stop his ex-girlfriend having an abortion returns to the High Court on Tuesday to seek an injunction. The man, who lives in Coventry and has two children from a previous marriage, told the BBC that he wants to change the law to protect the unborn child. He also wants to fight for the rights of fathers.

Nicholas Hercules, of the Pro-life Alliance agreed said the man was acting as a responsible parent. "Here we have a man who is being responsible, caring and loving over his unborn child. "If the shoe was on the other foot, so to speak, the CSA would be chasing him for his payments to contribute to the child."

Telegraph & Argus

Pay-up threat to mum raped by husband

by Charles Heslett

A woman who won £14,000 damages after her husband raped her has been ordered to pay him maintenance for the care of their children. The 43-year-old, pictured being comforted by her new husband, fears she will eventually have to hand back the whole of her damages in maintenance payments for her two teenage sons after losing an appeal against the decision by the Child Support Agency. The children - aged 14 and 16 - still live with her former partner.

Now she has been told she has to pay £199.77 a month to pay for two of her three children - which she estimates will eat up her damages. She said today: "My ex-husband has taken everything from me - my children, my home, my life - and he still wants more and he is using the system and the authorities to get it. "Maybe if some of these people at the CSA knew somebody who was being treated even slightly like I have been, then something would be done about it.

Her former husband insists the decision to make her pay maintenance is the right one. He said: "If a mother leaves the child and home then the parent is entitled to maintenance." If the mother fails to pay up the CSA has warned it will take the money directly from her pay packet.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham, the Under Secretary of State at the DSS, said: "I am sure you would agree that it would not be right to allow non-resident parents generally to evade their responsibility to support their children because of problems in their relationship."

A CSA spokesman said the child maintenance claim would in no way affect the damages awarded by the Bradford judge. But the spokesman said; "The maintenance figure is based on Child Support Law and non-resident parents have an obligation to comply with that."


Parking fine rage driver blames CSA

A crown court judge had accepted that a man who pinned a traffic warden against a shop front with his car was under stress from the Child Support Agency (CSA). Paul Valetta, 40, was found guilty last week of dangerous driving for the violent reaction after he found a parking ticket on his car windscreen.

Passing a nine-month jail term suspended for 18 months, Judge Gareth Davies told the court that while he believed Valetta deserved to be imprisoned, he accepted that the CSA had pushed him over the edge.... Valetta explained that he had failed to take his medication - which had been prescribed for stress - on the day of the incident last October.... Valetta said he had been under a lot of stress at the time following a long running problem with payments to the Child Support Agency.

The Telegraph

Single mothers failed and fathers persecuted

THE Child Support Agency (CSA) persecuted good fathers and failed single mothers, said Alan Simpson (Lab, Nottingham South) when he called for a Commons debate on the agency so that MPs could know more about the CSA. He said: "It is important for the House to have a debate on the extent to which we continue to miserably fail the women who get no support from their former partners and continue to pursue and persecute men who are good fathers."

He said there was an "immovable backlog" of cases awaiting the attention of the independent case examiner. Margaret Beckett, Leader of the House, said that every MP probably had constituents who had experienced difficulties in dealing with the CSA. She said that Mr Simpson was right to identify "the great distress and difficulty that is caused".

The Times

Cold spots for divorced dads


Single fathers often struggle to find living space to suit their needs and pockets. Hidden among the statistics that show a boom in single households is a casualty of demographic change: the divorced father. Typically, he will have abandoned his equity share in the family home, although he may continue to be responsible for mortgage repayments. He may have problems borrowing more or affording interest once the CSA (Child Support Agency) has assessed his situation.

But the bedsit, often a divorced father&’s destiny, makes an uncongenial home. “What children need most is normality,” says Jim Parton, the chairman of Families Need Fathers. “Giving them treats on Saturday afternoon soon palls, and 40 per cent of kids lose contact with their fathers within two years. Children need space of their own, somewhere just to lie around in a natural, relaxed atmosphere, and that is virtually impossible to achieve without a proper home.”

Manchester Online

Cash for CSA blunder dad who lost home

A DAD who lost his home after a CSA blunder could be in line for up to £100,000 government compensation.

[X] defaulted on his mortgage after the Child Support Agency wrongly demanded an extra £90 a month. Now the CSA has admitted its error and referred his case to the Parliamentary Ombudsman for compensation. [X], 38, said: ''I was so upset to have lost the house, particularly since there was no need. I've heard of cases where people have committed suicide because of the CSA demanding high payments. I know exactly what they've been through.''

[X] failed to make repayments on his £38,000 mortgage on a house in Sunbury Drive, Newton Heath, after the CSA demanded £465.38 a month for [Y], 16, and [Z], 14. [X] struggled financially and his house was repossessed two years ago. He moved into a council house, but then the CSA demanded more cash because his council rent was less than his old mortgage.

An internal letter, written by a CSA officer to the agency's special payments team, says: ''[X] and his partner have suffered stress and lost their home as a result of agency error.'' It says that if they had done their assessments on time and come up with a correct figure, this outcome may have been avoided.


Labour unveils more welfare reforms

Reforms could include new support for parents

The reform of the welfare state will go further than the "baby bonds" scheme if Labour wins the general election. Social Security Secretary Alistair Darling is to announce sweeping changes to the Child Support Agency and new support for parents to help with the cost of raising a family in a keynote speech in Edinburgh on Friday.

Next week the government will launch its Choices package, designed to give lone parents more options and support in getting back to work. Mr Darling is expected to tell his constituents in Edinburgh Central that welfare reform is not just about passing legislation, but about delivering change on the ground. He will tell them: "It is all very well to theorise about welfare reform, or to make grand statements about the shape of the benefit system, which sound impressive, but make no impact on people's lives. "Too often commentators fall into the trap of thinking that welfare reform is just about passing legislation. "The real test of welfare reform is: is it working? Is it changing people's lives?"

Milton Keynes on Sunday

MKoS story used in CSA campaign

AN article published in Milton Keynes on Sunday is being used as part of a national campaign by single fathers fighting the Child Support Agency. February's report in this newspaper detailed how single fathers were becoming 'the new homeless' in the city because of the financial constraints placed on them. The article has now been reproduced in the latest newsletter of the National Association for Child Support Action (NACSA).

Father, Paul Robinson - a former social services manager from Birmingham - contacted MKoS and said he would be using the article to show to his local MP in an attempt to get the law on child support changed. The 47 year old said he had been a successful professional man with a £200,000 home and a corresponding salary until his divorce several years ago. He said: "As a result of the divorce, I had to quit the family home in favour of my wife and three children, but I was happy to continue paying all the bills and providing my children with pocket money. "However, my wife then involved the CSA and, since then, that meant I had to pay some 30 per cent of my salary on top of everything. I could not afford to live independently.

The Independent

Don't let the state gets its hands on DNA fingerprints

Privacy fears put police off giving samples of DNA

If you want advice on civil liberties, ask a policeman. Given the common prejudice in liberal circles that prevailing attitudes in the police force are authoritarian, it is fascinating to see what happens when police officers are asked about something touching on their own rights as citizens. Nearly half of them have refused to provide tissue samples for a national DNA database.

The purpose of the Police Elimination Database is to eliminate police staff and others at the scene of a crime from inquiries, but even police officers do not seem confident that the information, once logged, will not be used for other purposes. Despite being assured that their samples will not be tested for drugs, or passed to the Child Support Agency for paternity investigations, nearly 40,000 police officers have said No.

The problem is that, once a DNA database has been established, the temptation for those in authority will be to use it not just to eliminate people from specific inquiries but to carry out general searches which might, for example, throw up someone related to a suspect or discover an inherited psychological trait related to criminal behaviour. That is unlikely, given the present state of awareness of these issues, but the point about civil liberties is that it is no use relying on the goodwill of those exercising power over the citizen to do so with restraint.

The Times

Errors in new law hit CSA court cases


THE Child Support Agency has adjourned all court cases against parents accused of failing to pay child maintenance after discovering drafting errors in new child support legislation. A spokeswoman for the agency confirmed that it had been forced to ask for adjournments for more than 50 court cases it had planned to bring against absent parents, because “a small paragraph” had been missed out of the Child Support, Pensions and Social Security Act. “There was a drafting error with the new legislation, which came in on April 2,” she said. “This meant there was an urgent need to amend the Act.”

The error means that scores of children throughout the country who have already had to wait months, or in some cases years, for their full maintenance payments now face further delays. It is the latest in a string of disasters to befall the CSA, whose notorious maintenance assessment formula and high error rate have turned it into one of the country&’s most detested institutions. The new legislation, which enables courts to fine, imprison or confiscate the driving licence of fathers who failed to pay child maintenance, was designed to be a root-and-branch reform of the agency.

Sunday Times

What they stand for

(Pre-election article).

Labour record and promises

85% more maintenance payments being collected by the Child Support Agency in 2000/01 than in 1997/98.

Conservative policies

(No mention here of the CSA).

Lib Dem policies

Scrap the Child Support Agency and replace it with family courts

Sunday Times

Child-aid teams hunt for 60,000 absent mothers

John Elliott

THE number of absent mothers being targeted by the Child Support Agency (CSA) to pay for the upkeep of their children has almost trebled in four years, according to new figures. Increasing financial independence means more women can set up home away from their former husbands or boyfriends. Often they cannot be traced by the agency or are not making payments. The vast majority of the CSA's 1,045,000 cases involve fathers, but mothers represent a growing proportion. The new figures, for November last year, show the CSA seeking payments from more than 61,000 mothers as against 23,300 in 1996.

Tony Coe, president of the Equal Parenting Council which campaigns for fair custody arrangements after divorce, said: "In most cases women only want to separate from their partners, and separation from their children is an unwanted side effect."

Steve Johnson, 47, a former industrial photographer from Plymouth, Devon, looked after his son Dominic after he and his wife parted in 1981, six weeks after the boy was born. Despite a CSA decision in his favour, Johnson has never received any maintenance money. "I was well off before the divorce, but I had to sacrifice things like a good car and holidays, and I went from a nice house to a small flat," he said. "Single parents just have to be very resourceful. It became harder to keep working while looking after Dominic. Eventually I had to stop. It's impossible to be a good single parent and work full-time." Gingerbread, a support group for single parents, said: "Courts are now more likely to consider custody for fathers. There is more awareness of their capabilities and lone fathers seem more comfortable with that role."

Milton Keynes on Sunday

Letters to the Editor

SIR - What your correspondents on the Child Support Agency have overlooked is that the so-called agency should really be called the Treasury Support Agency. Its real aim is only incidentally to see that children in such cases are benefitted; rather, it seeks to claw back as much as possible in what is paid out from public funds. The Children are no better off from having their father virtually stripped of his income. In fact, they tend to be worse off.

What should have been the case from the outset was that where the courts had already decreed a fair and reasonable settlement, the CSA should have been forbidden to interfere. Additionally, the courts should have had the power to overturn an unreasonable CSA assessment.

Milton Keynes on Sunday

CSA hunts down only easy targets

Stillman on Sunday

Single fathers are fast becoming Milton Keynes' new homeless - made destitute by archaically sexist separation laws and a Child support Agency (CSA) eager to unload the welfare state burden upon them.

But most pursued are the poor sods who have worked hard to support their families and who suddenly see their lives and mental equilibrium collapse, only to have the rug of financial stability ripped away from them too. The CSA claims between 30 percent and 40 percent of incomes. Most women with kids stay in family homes and receive state benefits. Many single fathers who get 'lucky' rent a bedsit. Others sleep in the back of their car. Neither is big enough for the child they support to stay with them.

So, advice to single mothers:
- If you want a nice home, find yourself a loving, generous, slightly vulnerable bloke who's prepared to take on you and your kids.
- Make him fall in love with you and buy a family home together.
- Then bin him and get him out of your house until the kids are 18. Simple, isn't it?

The Times

Student sues his estranged father


STUDENT has won a court order for maintenance payments from his father who had disowned him. John Rose must pay £300 a month to his 19-year-old son Paul, who is in his second year studying mechanical and offshore engineering at Robert Gordon University.

John and Helen Rose separated in 1996. They divorced three years later, Mr Rose paying £5 a week towards the support of his three children. Paul Rose said he had decided to take legal action after his father had told the Child Support Agency that he wasn&’t his son. He had taken DNA tests to prove he was. “When I read that it really hurt. It&’s not something you should say...."

Grimsby Evening Telegraph

Work comes to standstill

Work ground to a standstill in council offices across North East Lincolnshire yesterday (Friday) as employees came to terms with the devastating pay blow.
Staff say they are working in an "atmosphere of fear" and angry callers flooded the Grimsby Telegraph/This is Grimsby newsroom in response to the news.

One retired mother burst into tears after telling how her daughter and son-in-law have been handed a £6,000 cut between them. "I don't know how they are going to cope," she said, sobbing. "They have just sold their house and moved into a new one and both have CSA to pay as well as supporting their own.

The Observer

Mothers of deception

The selfish women who deprive their children of a father's love

Cristina Odone

My friend Paul shows me the photos of his new-born baby, cradled in his wife's arms. 'This is Sara... with Millie.' He can hardly keep the anger from his voice as he names his wife.... Within a few weeks of meeting Paul, Millie got pregnant. They moved in together, got married, and Sara was born. As soon as Paul's name was on the birth certificate, Millie changed the lock on their front door. He's seen his baby only once a week ever since - that's when Millie doesn't change her mind at the last minute. Despite this limited access, he pays his wife £750 a month in child maintenance. Millie is the ultimate sperm'n'cheque woman. They are the women who want a child, and someone to finance their child, but have no wish to share their life with a man. What motivates them to perpetrate this fraud? Hatred of men? Certainly, in these women's eyes men are fungible - Paul could just as well have been Tom, Dick or Harry - victims of deceit. Control freakery ('I must be in charge of my destiny - and my child's') plays a part, too; and the kind of impatience that refuses to enter into the daily compromise that is marriage. Why put up with another grown-up's demands and criticisms when you can just enjoy being everything to a wee little creature?

Whatever the trigger, these women are many - and growing in numbers. According to Jim Parton, chairman of Families Need Fathers, experiences such as Paul's are ever-more commonplace among the 3,000 male members of his association. And these figures don't take into account the countless other fathers who are marginalised and paying, but who refuse to publicly admit that their women tricked them into this emasculating situation.... But to help children we need to do more than appoint a commissioner; we need to change family law. Only in this way can we stop the sperm'n'cheque women in their tracks.

If the law is an ass, family law is a mangy, limping one. It backs mothers but condemns children and fathers to life-long estrangement. Judges, in 90 per cent of cases, award custody of children to mothers. Though parental responsibility (the right to be consulted over major issues such as education, or a child being moved abroad) is a married father's automatic right, an unmarried one must go to court for it. In deciding who obtains custody or parental responsibility, the judges have no precedents to go on, for no research exists to determine what the consequences of their decision has been on the children involved after, say, 10 years. Nor are these decisions ever subject to scrutiny: family court judgments go unreported - unless there is an abduction case - out of concern for children's right to privacy.

A child's right to a father, however, is overlooked. Family law values only money, and reduces fathers to piggy-bank status. The Child Support Agency it set up is intent on chasing fathers for maintenance (with no concern about his financial status or who dumped whom) rather than securing their access to children. The CSA treats men as unwilling fathers, who will only cough up when threatened with confiscation of their driving licence or their passports, or imprisonment, yet 75 per cent of unmarried fathers sign birth registers - hardly evidence of their shirking their duty.

These women are not rare: the Government's Children First consultation paper found that 40 per cent of the divorced or separated mothers admitted to thwarting child-father contact.... Fatherhood is an inalienable right, for both child and father, and we should defend it from those women bent on trampling it. Otherwise we risk living in a world where Philip Larkin's verse, 'they fuck you up your mum and dad', may well be edited to 'she fucks you up, your mum, about dad'.

The Times

New Bill will strengthen fathers hands


(The author is Professor of Family Law at Staffordshire University and Director of its Centre for the Study of the Family, Law and Social Policy)

The general election has delayed its passage, but the long-awaited Adoption and Children Bill will eventually give men more rights.... The election has delayed, if no more, the Adoption and Children Bill 2001 aimed at strengthening the legal standing of non-marital fathers and stepfathers respectively. The former stood to gain “parental responsibility” (automatic legal clout) by joining the mother in registering the birth of their offspring. Only a minuscule number of such men go to court and use the Children Act 1989 to obtain a Parental Responsibility Order. The new legislation would permit marital stepfathers to achieve the same thing simply by registering an agreement to that effect with the mother and her divorced husband.

Earlier this year, Times letter writers complained about a court decision to allow a mother to move the children abroad, and the pressure group Families Need Fathers has catalogued other areas of alleged legal bias. In addition to the emigration issue, they include a reluctance to countenance “residence” orders in favour of fathers, institutionalised prejudice among divorce professionals - and, of course, the iniquities of the Child Support Agency. It must be said that, in academic circles at least, there has been a tendency to demonise these men, mainly by peppering learned journals with such words as “patriarchal”, and criticising separated fathers for wanting to retain control over the important decisions while leaving the daily caring to the mother: power without responsibility.

Today most separating parents come to private agreements about their children. In 1999 there were 150,000 divorces and 21,000 residence orders. On the other hand, faced with what they see as prejudice from the Solicitors Family Law Association, such fathers may simply give up the ghost - “a lawyers&’ cartel started in 1982 which has not upheld a complaint against a member since, er, 1982”, to quote from McKenzie, the Families Need Fathers&’ journal. It has a regular round-up of the best CSA horror stories. One such was the discovery by the National Audit Office that CSA miscalculations, running at more than 20 per cent of the total, are four times more likely to involve overcharging than undercharging. Yet not all family law and practice is weighted against fathers. A de facto stepfather is well placed. By living with, but not marrying, the mother of someone else&’s children, he can sample the joys of parenthood without attracting financial liability to them (or their mother) either during or after the relationship.

Furthermore, under the Child Support, Pensions and Social Security Act 2000, the stepfather can use those children to offset liability for his own offspring from a previous relationship, even though the natural father of the second lot is paying child support for them. And if the new relationship lasts for three years or more, the Act gives even the non-marital “stepfather” the right to apply for “custody”. Power without responsibility indeed.

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Page last updated: 7 July, 2004 © Copyright Barry Pearson 2003