Making the system work

Solicitors Family Law AssociationLast week Resolution published a briefing setting out its concerns about the catchily-titled Child Maintenance and other Payments Bill (I've been trying to think of an acronym for the Bill - the best and most appropriate I've come up with (with apologies to our ape cousins) is 'CHIMP'). The briefing goes through the five key areas addressed within CHIMP (private agreements between parents, maintenance calculation, shared care and maintenance, enforcing payment and historic debt & compensation), outlines the Government’s proposed approach, and sets out Resolution’s concerns and recommendations for reform.

One of Resolution's key recommendations is that parents with care should be permitted to take their own enforcement action through the courts, should they so choose. At a stroke this would drastically reduce the workload of the CSA/C-MEC, would empower those parents by giving them control of the enforcement process, and would no doubt reduce the huge amount of unpaid child support. Of course, the government will have two objections, both based upon fiscal considerations rather than creating a better system: that it would overload the courts system, thereby requiring substantial investment in our overworked courts, and that it would lead to a substantial increase in the legal aid budget. However, as Resolution point out, in many cases the court is already examining the family's finances for the purposes of divorce - "the most cost effective and practical course would be to enable them also to cover arrangements for child support payments". Otherwise, if the parent with care does not require legal aid, why not let them finance enforcement proceedings themselves if they wish? Even if legal aid is required, it would surely only be granted if there was a good chance that the enforcement would be successful, and if it is, then the court would also order the paying parent to pay the costs of the proceedings, thereby reimbursing the legal aid fund.

Of course, a cynic may say that as a solicitor I'm just looking to acquire new business (or, to be more accurate, to re-acquire old business that was lost when the Child Support Act came into force), but surely it is more important that we have a system that works?