What a difference a year – well 17 years really – makes. When the Child Support Agency arrived as an unwelcome guest for most separating families in 1993 in England and Wales, it was almost universally vilified … over the following few years the agency came to deserve the loathing that so many people had for it, with an unrealistic formula and, for too many families, either inactivity or lost files (and where there was activity, too often the work was riddled with mistakes).
The mid 90s saw suicides, razor blades in the post to child support officials, hunger strikes and cut benefits for already impoverished parents with care … some of us were starting to give up hope for change.
But change there has been … the policy departments of the Child Maintenance and Enforcement Commission seem suddenly to be full of bright and impressive people, eager to create a service that separating families need. Progress is hampered by the enormous history of debt that the current regime has inherited, however, bit by bit our child support administration may at last be building into the service that those of us have been seeking over the years. Surely, all that can stop it now is probably funding cuts. Let us hope that the new administration is not so pressed that it allows this to happen.
But whilst the machinery is suddenly whirring closer to the original design the great flaw in the middle of the system remains: beneath superficial simplicity lies bewildering complexity within which are many unanswered questions – hence the continued stream of litigation, tribunal decisions and court judgments. Even those of us who have been working with it since before its start still find quirks and nuances tucked away in the corner of the 1,000 pages of regulation that form this clockwork interior. And what this can mean for some families is unprincipled action and endless rounds of appeal where one or both parents elect to get stuck into micro-management of the claims and exploit some of the weak points of the structure. At FLiP we have produced an information pack to try and help (email us at email@example.com for a copy). Some of the basics include:
- Don’t miss the deadlines for appeals – you may have only 28 days from a decision to do so
- Don’t ignore the agency because it is ignoring you – eventually it will catch up with things and it may then be too late to tell it about all the changes of circumstances since the original decision that should have been taken into account
- Don’t get so overwhelmed with “winning” within the system that you overlook what this is about: solving the question of child support and providing a good enough stream of maintenance to meet children’s needs
- Don’t get wound up with the unfairness that the system produces for you – the system just is and sometimes there is nothing that can be done about it: where is a set of rules that operates unfairly and an effective machinery to apply them, you may risk adding to the damage to your family by fighting it all; but
- Remember also that this operates within a context of other claims … it may be possible to step to one side and use a different system to agree what works for the family overall
- Finally, when it all gets too difficult, think about different answers entirely –sit down with the other parent and with help (consider mediation or collaborative law), put the child support system to one side and see whether you can’t agree a structure covering all aspects of family life, including child support that could work better for you all as a family.
For more information please contact firstname.lastname@example.org