Saturday, July 07, 2007

Dads who will not pay to support their children


Until now I have deliberately ignored this story but..........here goes........ don't say I didn't warn you......

The barrister? legal clerk? (reports vary) Michael Cox, has been jailed and subsequently freed for refusing to pay Child Support. The BBC reports that given his children spend 50% of their time with him he argues that the law is wrong and he should not have to pay their mother anything towards their care.

Why are the CSA involved?

This is where the story starts to get confusing. The CSA is not like the Crown Prosecution Service, they act upon the Parent with Care's instructions, unless he/she is in receipt of State Benefits in which case they plough on regardless. According to reports, again confusing, the ex wife works part time in a taxi office and pleaded with the Judge that if dad was jailed she would have to give up work and go on State Benefits to look after her 16 year old and 13 year twins without dad's help. Given that 16 year olds can legally marry and have their own children in this country it is unsurprising that the Judge did not fall for that one. By all reports it's one big happy family, dad having remarried and having 2 further sons and living nearby, so why can't the 3 lads stay with their step mum and brothers while dad is in prison anyway?

So, the mother is not in receipt of State Benefits but does receive Tax Credits which is why the CSA is seeking the £43,000 arrears, according to reports. This is contrary to the whole ethos of the Tax Credits system!!!!!! Tax Credits are paid regardless of what maintenance the Parent with Care receives. Such income is disregarded in their assessment. This was deliberate to encourage Parents with Care back into work, as their maintenance was always taken into account in assessing their State Benefits.

Curiouser and curiouser!!!!!!!!

If what they claim is true however, and it is baffling in the extreme, a simple solution would have been for the mother to cease making her Tax Credits claim, but it would still appear that she must have made a CSA Application in the first place. Insufficient facts are provided to work out how this situation arose, it is atypical because normally the Parent with Care embraces the help of the CSA in order to collect Child Maintenance because she needs it. Clearly this barrister's/legal clerk's ex wife did not need it (again according to newspaper reports) so why make the claim in the first place? One is left to assume, and I emphasise assume because the facts are not supplied, that she was on State Benefits which is why the CSA marched on, to reclaim tax payer's money, and why not?

Of course, this assumption may be wrong. His ex wife may never have received State Benefits and may never have made a CSA application.

Who did then?

Why is this nightmare happening to Mr Cox? The CSA was renowned for it's inefficiency and lack of proactive chasing of recalcitrant absent parents. It would appear that they set this claim up themselves. How very singular.

Who is this £43,000.00 payable to?

Mrs Cox or the State?

If it's Mrs Cox, why doesn't he just give her the money and she give it back to him? We are talking about 12 years arrears, that is a lot of State time and money (your taxes and mine) spent chasing this guy. Why?

Why should he pay anything?

The now disbanded CSA was set up to assess child maintenance. The Family Courts take the view that a child has the right to share in the living standards of his parents. The CSA rates are reduced to account for how much time the child spends with the absent parent and at the time this was introduced it was considered controversial as it was thought it would encourage additional contact in order to reduce the maintenance levy.

In any event the assumption was that the main carer required support from the absent parent and in the vast majority of cases this is true. The best way to achieve this is via Child maintenance and perhaps an additional capital order or topping up order in favour of the child, even where care is split. For example, dad could be earning £70,000 per annum and mum could be on minimum wage. Clearly mum needs help in this instance even where the care is shared. The aim was to ensure that children did not fall into poverty.

In the unusual cases where incomes were similar and care was split then couples could make their own arrangements and did not need to involve the CSA. Lots of couples make their own arrangements. The CSA was only there to support parents with care in the sad cases where the absent parent did not pay.

The law is wrong says Mr Cox

Given that most old people don't have any school age children why should they pay towards our education system? Given that a lot of people live fit and healthy lives why should they pay towards the National Health service? It is the law of this fair and pleasant land. The welfare system helps to support our society's weakest members and it is a matter of public policy to be lauded that absent parents are expected to financially support their own children.

What of Mr Cox?

As I have pointed out, I do not have the full facts of his case, I am more than prepared to change my opinion if the facts are supplied and it turns out that Mr Cox is indeed a helpless victim of the system.



8 comments:

Anonymous said...

I note your comments with interest. But the problem is that the "absent parent" in cases where care is shared equally is defined as the parent not receiving child benefit. It has nothing to do with the relative wealth of each parent. I know of a case where care is shared but the father is in receipt of child benefit . The CSA are forcing the mother to pay him maintenance. His income is not even taken into account. That's the stupidity of the system.

Orhan Kahn said...

Wow, and I thought the Australian justice system was complicated enough. And to think we take after your British model of politics.

Lynne Bastow said...

Anonymous,

Thank you for your comment. Your case does highlight that the system can indeed be unfair but again I assume that the father has made an application to the CSA and you do not state their relative wealth. You are of course correct that a CSA assessment does not turn on their relative financial situations but there are other solutions available.

For the purposes of Tax Credits primary responsibility for the child equals main carer and in most instances this is indeed the parent to whom child benefit is paid. However, child benefit, which is only paid to one parent, can be paid to the "absent parent", provided the "absent parent" pays more money to the parent with care than the child benefit rate.

For the purposes of a CSA assessment the parent with care is the parent whom the child spends most nights with and the CSA assume that child benefit payments exemplify this. If there is disparity of income between the parents and the care of the child is shared then spousal maintenance or a nominal maintenance order is required or a Christmas type order preventing either parent making an application to the CSA together with Court Ordered child maintenance if appropriate.

Clearly if one of the parents were later to receive State Benefits then such a change in circumstances would warrant a change in financial arrangements. If the parties were never married then one should ensure that the "absent parent" is the higher earner. One could go on forever, Children Act applications etc.....

Anonymous said...

Indeed a curious story. Is Cox a barrister or clerk? Also the f4j nickname "Guantanamo Dad" is a rather a strange comparison to the poor souls held in Guantanamo Bay without trial or charge for years.

Apparently unconditional bail was granted with a view to quashing the committal decision after hearing representations from Mr Cox’s legal representative? And now f4j are to support an ECHR application over the failure of the government to divide benefits between two parents in shared parenting arrangements. Ho-hum

Orhan Kahn said...

I found this article you might find useful:

http://www.cnn.com/2007/US/07/11/paternity.cases/index.html

Anonymous said...

Hi Lynne,

With regard to Mr. Cox, I suspect you are missing the point, which is that there is a clear injustice in the rules. Almost all of the complaints about the CSA which are aired publicly refer to personal grievances about the application of the financial principles. However, the issue here is different, inasmuch as it is the principle itself which is unfair.

Consider the following example:

(i) the two separated parents share the costs of bringing up their children equally,
(ii) the children spend equal amounts of time in each parent’s home
(iii) the Family Court has recognised their equality of rights and responsibilities by granting a shared residence order,

The amount that can be claimed by the 'parent with care' from the 'absent parent' in these circumstances is not insubstantial – for two children the CSA will take 10% (less £7) of their net income from one parent to give to the other.

Hence, one parent has almost 20% more disposable income than the other, even though both have identical costs and expenses in relation to their children.

It is my understanding that it is this injustice which Mr. Cox is arguing about, and I cannot help but feel that examining the details of his particular circumstances simply deflects attention from it.

Lynne Bastow said...

Annonymous,

I agree that Mr Cox is attempting to air an injustice in the system. However, I disagree with his method of doing so and given that he has courted publicity one has a right to question whether he is indeed a helpless victim of the system.

Anonymous said...

Come, come, Lynne,

how on earth will such an injustice ever be put right if it is not publicised?

I wrote to Lord McKenzie, the relevant Minister, a few weeks ago to make the above point. It beggars belief, but I received a reply from the Ministerial Correspondence Unit which states "It should be borne in mind the formula is designed to reflect the ability of both parents to contribute to the maintenance of their children". Can it really be the case that the Department of Work and Pensions do not know that, in the circumstances I described, the ONLY factor taken into account is the non-resident parent's income?

Unlike the courts, the CSA are not accountable in any way other than in the "court" of public opinion. But how can the public ever accept the CSA, or its successor, if their rules are so blatantly unfair?

Currently, the government is not prepared to address the injustice I have highlighted (and from the correspondence I have received, they have no intention of doing so) even though they must be aware of it from Mr. Cox's case. But ask yourself what incentive there is for them to do so, if the injustice is not in the public eye.

The story is not Mr. Cox's circumstances, or indeed his personal agenda (whatever that is), it is the injustice he is highlighting.