CMEC responds

The CMEC press release that I posted a couple of days ago prompted some comments on the issue of child support that I didn't reply to, as I felt that they were beyond the scope of the post. However, a Commission spokesman has written to me in response to some of the points that were made:
  1. As to the accuracy of CSA assessments he says: "Much has improved since 2006; the Agency's latest published stats show 89.7% accuracy within £1 or 2% of the correct calculation. In any case, as I'm sure you know, all parents have the right to challenge the assessment. But you have to engage with the Agency to do that."

  2. As to how much of the money will benefit children, he says: "In recovering arrears through enforcement, the CSA prioritises money owed to parents with care (as opposed to 'Secretary of State' debt). I'm limited to what I can say about this particular case but it is reasonable to assume that the Agency does not embark on costly litigation that involves High Court applications unless there is a parent with care in urgent need of the money."

  3. "Finally, on the claim that you can be a financially responsible parent while choosing to defy the CSA ('draconian', 'unfair', etc. etc.) we can only point out that since October 2008 all parents have been free to agree to their own private maintenance arrangements if they able to, without involving the CSA - even if the parent with care is receiving income-related benefits."
Over to you commenters...


  1. It's interesting that they monitor your blog, John, and that they are concerned about public perception of them. It's good to see that their accuracy is improving, though it's nothing to brag about. If the NHS were getting dosages wrong in 1 case out of 10 I think we'd hear about it.

    My late father (a chartered accountant) used to say that since accountancy is only mathematics, it's as easy to be out by £100,000 as it is to be out by 1p.

    As for point 2, in few cases will all the money go to the parent or all to the state. Cases which are pursued with the full force of the law seem to be a combination, and most are dealt with in magistrates' courts. On point 3, it only works if both parties agree, which isn't likely as long as child support and child contact cannot be sorted out together.

    To be fair to your correspondent from the CSA, the main problem is the legislation; the efficiency of the agency is irrelevant. And the main problems with the legislation are that it only takes account of one parent's earnings, and where care is shared more or less equally the liable parent still has to pay.

    There is a discrepancy in that the two decisions - who is liable and what is the liability - are made using, respectively, a very simple calculation - who does the child spend most time with - and a more complex calculation - based on the now liable parent's earnings.

    The solution F4J suggest, which will be on our website soon, is both simpler and fairer, and crucially is based on both parents' earnings and on the time spent with both parents. It means that a high earning parent who cares for the child more of the time than the other low earning parent could still end up paying. The result, we believe, is a more stable level of maintenance to the child. It's certainly worth a look and a debate!

  2. Thanks for that, Nick.

    As to the F4J proposal, I seem to remember suggesting, or at least discussing, something similar a while back - I'll be interested to see the details.

  3. Government does not coerce fathers who live with their children to provide anything for their children, but does to those who have been separated from their children, that does not make sense and is discriminatory and abhorant and as Nick Langford says people fight it out of principle and go to jail instead of the injustice. Personally I think a clean break is the only sensible solution. However, unlike the liberals who run this I believe mothers and fathers would look after their children given no alternative. The provision of the safety net, like with unemployment and housing benefits has caused the issue, the sooner is scrapped and back to the courts the better.

    Essentially the system is flawed as is government intervention into the intricacies of the family. Judges have historically for very very good reasons in divorce cases favoured clean break divorces. The type of Orwellian, communist intervention that the CSA / CMEC does not warm people to them.

    After catching-up on this, I think I agree with Anonymous' comments.

  4. While on the subject, perhaps a pay to see your children model would work better as there is obviously a link between fathers being denied access and resenting payment. Think I read somewhere that most CSA male "clients" do not get to see their children. Such a model would probably need little government money to run so the cmec / csa money could go to more important things like the NHS, or my rodent problem.

  5. I would happily look after my children and would do so without even asking for any money from my ex or the state, I hate the csa with every part of me. I am prevented access and have the csa on me all the time, is very wrong.

  6. Contact and child support are two separate issues, for very good reason. The welfare of the child cannot be determined simply by reference to whether the absent parent is paying support.

  7. Again, provided the children are not being harmed I do not think the welfare of the children is any of your business. They should not be separate, but should be used for bargaining a private agreement. As is non resident parent has no bargaining power but is impotent against both csa for money and resident parent for contact. He thus is not happy and liable to go postal.

    Government came in and took away the bargaining power. Thus he gets what is offered by the woman (usually no agreement) and has to pay anyway, sick.

  8. Please re-read my last comment. The welfare of the child is of course the business of any court which determines any question with respect to the upbringing of the child.

  9. You'd be surprised how many F4J proposals are shared by other entirely normal, moderate, right-thinking people. We're not quite the nutters some would like to present us as.

    I would disagree, however, that child support and contact can - or should - be kept separate. Quite clearly they are intimately related; Del Boca and Ribero (1998, 2001, 2003) showed that mothers trade contact time between non-resident fathers and their children for child support payments. The higher the payments, the more contact time; it is actually more cost-effective for a NRP wanting more contact to pay more child support than to go to court, but as contact increases so the price is raised.

    John Ermisch of the University of Essex says, that if reform 'is successful in improving enforcement, then it is likely to reduce the frequency of fathers' contact with their children for many fathers... These connections between policies affecting child support payments and the frequency of fathers' contact with their children have been overlooked because of an inadequate theoretical foundation for the analysis of child support and

    An interesting footnote: CMEC report today that 50% of arrears are owed to the Treasury and not to parents and their children. I had thought it was less than this. The figure merely supports our argument that child support takes money out of families at a time when it is most needed and impoverishes them. It is a taxing measure. I sympathise deeply with Anonymous.

  10. Glad to hear that you are not 'quite' a nutter! ;-)

    What you say about the link between child support and contact is to do with the perceived link by many parents, whereas I was talking about the matters that the court must consider when determining any question with respect to the upbringing of the child.

    As to your last point, I assume you are referring to repayment of benefit. I have no problem with that, where it is determined that the absent parent has the means to pay - why should the taxpayer foot the bill, just because the parents have separated? It is not a taxing measure at all.

  11. John, 2 things. Firstly welfare of the child is subjective and Judges are sexist, therefore, unsuprisingly I stand by that court and csa are manipulated by mothers to kick out and get perfectly good fathers to pay while not seeing children.

    Second point, you should not judge a man unless you have walked a mile in his shoes. I do not think either yourself or NL pay neither child support or spousal support, I have paid for 6 years now and have 13 years to go. I will now spend some time reading NLs post and my children's school reports which I am very pleased to say are excellent, on a more positive note.

  12. The CSA / CMEC are not feeding children who would otherwise not be fed as they would have you believe.

    It is more the case that they are making a difficult situation worse and should be scrapped and the matter taken back to court.

    They have not saved the taxpayer money as John suggests or reduced (but rather increased) family breakdown, as it is the mother who usually ends the relationships and is more likely to now being assured of the money from the father regardless. Not good. I hope this will change.

    To quote the manic street preechers, if you tollerate this, then your children will be next. That is why people don't like the CSA, it is immoral. I hope someone important listens to the fathers as well as the lobbyists and stops this situation and everyone (inc. the cmec person who started this thread) starts to really think about what the real problems are and how to resolve them, rather than what we have now and for the forseeable future which makes no sense at all. Needs to be scrapped and back with the (open) courts, so that preferably no one goes there as solicitors are too expensive and sort things out between them.

    John's point about taxpayers money is of course a red herring, probably intended to liven up the debate. The CSA / CMEC have not saved tax-payers money.

    Want to save taxpayers money, should not have invaded Iraq, should have had adequate banking supervision, that would have saved many many multiples of what we are arguing about financially.

    Really we are talking about middle class people trying to find someone to look down their noses at and I have had enough of it, is very bad.

    Rather than Australia, Denmark is a good model, there they have sensible policies and little or no conflict on contact or child support. They have shared parenting and low child support obligations, it has been found there that with shared parenting the finances get sorted out between the parents without state intervention.

  13. We haven't even gone on to talk about second families and if first families should take priority over second families, even if father has been dumped, is it then fair to say to him you should now not pay for a new family but for the first only as you do? I say not, such ammoral arguing is why the csa / cmec is unfair and unpopular and why it should close and the matter go back to court.

  14. I agree with NL's comment, and the study, that if you improve enforcement then you will reduce the amount of time that separated fathers see their children for the reasons discussed already. I am beginning to repeat myself, so will leave it there, I am not sure that anyone has changed their mind, but if nothing else have let off some steam.

    So many people are writing to their MPs to close it yet it stays open and gets more power, that is strange and shows the problem with politics in this country. One of the main parties should break cover on the cross party agreement on this issue and suggest scrapping them and putting back to the courts, I would vote for them for sure.

  15. I am delighted that David thinks my posts are excellent, ;)

    For the record I used to pay child support; I pay it no longer.

    The link between child support and contact is not merely the ‘perception’ of deluded parents, it is a simple relationship. Child support is determined according to the time the child spends with you (or doesn’t); that time is determined by the court. How much more direct a link do you require?

    There is good evidence that when child support and contact are arranged together as part of a package there is less conflict and less likelihood that the arrangement will break down. Where they are considered separately there is greater likelihood that a parent will default on one (paying CS or facilitating contact) in order to interfere with the other. Pretending they are entirely unrelated is not very constructive.

    Child support is not the repayment of benefit, though I see where you are coming from. It was devised to offset the cost to the state of single mothers, but it didn’t aim to recover the cost from those mothers’ former partners (most of whom weren’t working). There is no relation between the amount of CS paid and the level of benefit. As Lord Haughton said when it was introduced, ‘This bill is not a child support bill; it is a taxing bill.’ Everything about CS seems to satisfy the dictionary definition of a tax.

    I absolutely agree that the tax-payer shouldn’t have to pay for other people’s ghastly children (though actually he does through education, health care, etc). I simply don’t accept that the present CS system is the best way of doing that. Fairer systems have been shown to increase revenue and reduce the burden on the taxpayer. Ours is not a fair system and should change.

  16. Yes, Nick, most family lawyers were disappointed that the Government chose to link the amount of child support with the amount of contact, but I was rather looking at it from the point of view of the court determining a child dispute. There, whether the absent parent is paying anything is of little, if any, relevance.

    As to repayment of benefit, I don't understand your point. Any money that the mother receives from the father would reduce her benefit - that was the case before the CSA was ever thought of.

    I like your Lord Haughton quote (as always, you are very well read on the subject - you really ought to get a life! ;-)), the only problem with it is that child support is not a tax!

    Finally, as you will know, I agree that the system can, and should, be improved.

  17. I did mean my children's school reports, although I do enjoy reading your posts also Nick, they are very good. Will now read your last one. :) Best Regards.

  18. Having read it I agree that child support is a tax. It is taken by the government and spent by them, of course it's a tax. If my children needed money I would provide it for them, I resent the government taxing me and interfering in my relationship with my children and taxing me and messing about as they do with this tax for the government to undermine families and promote dependence on the state (whether you call it inland revenue, csa, or cmec is the same point).

  19. 'There is good evidence that when child support and contact are arranged together as part of a package there is less conflict and less likelihood that the arrangement will break down.'

    Agree with that completely. Coercion is not the answer either, didn't work for the Poll tax (to avoid the Nazi metaphor after a long debate and Godwin's law ;-)).

  20. Oops, I think I may just have prooved Godwin's law again :-).

    I note John's never paid CM and is becoming all holier than thou and hypocritical about it.

  21. If the point wasn't obvious enough... By telling others that they 'should' pay it, when he has never paid it himself.

    John, I do appreciate the site, and am sorry I felt I had to say that, but don't like the tone of your arguments suggesting people who don't like to pay cm via csa are bad parents, feel insulted by that and it coming from someone who has never been in that position and doesn't seem to empathise or understand the complexities of what they are talking about. Do like the site though, find it less emotional and more objective than the other family law sites which are populated with more emotional and less interesting stuff. You just touch a nerve on this subject for me very much.

  22. How do you know whether I have paid child maintenance? This debate is getting personal. Accordingly, I am closing it to any further comments.