Select Committee on Work and Pensions Written Evidence

Memorandum submitted by Mavis Maclean, CBE

  Before the CSA 1991 child maintenance was only available through the courts to the children of divorcing parents, the legal process was lengthy and costly, and orders were neither universal nor generous and compliance levels were low.

  Levels of lone parenthood were rising. Mrs Thatcher wished to establish the responsibility of non resident parents for their children.

  The CSA scheme was courageous in moving away from courts towards an administrative process, but damaged by over high expectations of how legal change would be followed by behavioural change, and by the false expectation of a pot of gold to be tapped into. But even more important was the failure of the scheme to develop a structure for party disputes.

  What has been accomplished since 1991? More than we might think. We now have a system which treats all children alike in having not a claim but a right to financial support from both parents, regardless of their civil status. Although individuals frequently challenge their own assessments. there is widespread acceptance of the basic value of child support.

  Where next? In 1990 John Eekelaar and I recommended the introduction of a Basic Child Support requirement for all, to be set at a level which could not be challenged (around the Income Support addition) and that for the minority of cases where there were further resources (10-15%) that a standard of living element could be calculated. This might be reconsidered.

  There should be no going back to the courts. The present scheme with all its failings is an improvement in coverage and collection rates. The family courts are already overburdened and could not take on additional work without major delays. DCA policy is that courts should be the service of last resort.

  There has been mention of the DCA Relationship Breakdown Programme which is designed to help parent in conflict over contact to resolve their problems. These programmes are not designed to help with financial issues, and indeed in this jurisdiction (as the President of the Family Division confirmed to the Select Committee on Constitutional Affairs) we maintain the separation between contact and support. Children's time is not for sale. In assessing and enforcing child support we need clear information rather than mediation.

  The US began with a Child Support collection Agency, which went on to develop guidelines for level setting later. We might reconsider the separation between assessment and enforcement, and work on making information available to the assessment body, while strengthening the debt management skills of the enforcement side.

5 January 2007

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