Child Support Agenda for the 21st Century
An aim of this web site is to help answer the question: "what
should replace the reformed system so that the UK has child support suitable
for the 21st Century?"
This is the opportunity to interrupt the informing
and analysing, and to start answering.
These are the currently proposed answers.
A vital question throughout is "how should a proposal be judged?"
This isn't a perfect science, but it is still possible to do better than
"this feels right" or "lots of people think this".
I propose a method of systematically evaluating
a proposal. Another useful question is "what proposals have been
excluded, and why?" These are identified
in Exclusions from the Agenda for the 21st Century.
The reformed scheme (2000 Act) really looks back to the late 20th
century. It is an attempt to put right a scheme (1991 & 1995 Acts),
also intended for the late 20th century, that went badly wrong.
The nature of the reformed scheme, and the features included in it
and omitted from it, are more determined by political and administrative
advantage than by the nature of children and parenting. It is as though
every feature were chosen for what is politically or administratively
expedient. None of it properly relates back to research or analysis
of the topics concerned.
|The social context for
Any particular child support system will work, if at all, only
in some types of society. Rather than make proposals that are so
general that they will work in any society (and therefore say very
little), this page starts by describing the social context that
the proposals are being considered for. This doesn't mean that they
will only work if all of these social proposals are completed. Instead,
the reasoning is that if a society intends to implement a child
support system of any kind, these are some useful
features of the society that will enable an effective child support
system to be devised. The later proposals will work more effectively,
and with less friction, if these trends proceed in parallel.
Unfortunately, there is a history of governments starting with
a broad picture of social & administrative changes, then "copping
out" and implementing just the administrative changes which
may not then work properly. This occurred during the reform of the
UK's child support system, see
the political drivers of the reformed scheme. In the year between
the Green Paper and the White Paper, non-financial statements concerning
"emotional support", "families", "care"
disappeared, leaving "We will put the need for regular and
reliable payments of maintenance at the heart of the new system
and we will introduce effective and prompt sanctions for those who
try to avoid providing for their children".
should have equal status by default
By default, both parents should have equal status & rights
& responsibilities, de jure and de facto.
The statement above emphasises that this is to be achieved in
practice, not just in law. It is clear first that options
for inequality left open in law tend to be taken up, and second
that signs of inequality get picked up and amplified by others who
don't understand, or perhaps don't agree with, the original intentions.
should know about paternity
The aim is that "all children born have a paternity which
is known and accepted by the husband or male partner".
This proposal is based on the simple logic that trying to sort
things out after the child is born is too late. It is better to
ensure that such dilemmas don't arise. It is better to have a society
where, because of the certainty of being found out, women don't
give birth to children whose paternity would be a surprise to their
husbands or male partners.
children should have been accepted children
The aim is that "all children born were wanted, or at least
accepted, by both man & woman when they had sex".
The main means advocated here is simply the next generation of
male contraceptives - safe, reliable, reversible, and unobtrusive.
They will enable either person to veto conception.
|Key principles of child
|Whatever the details
of a formula, some principles are focused on what child support is
really about - financial support for children.
sex discrimination from child support
There is explicit sex discrimination is child support & social
security law. When there is a dispute, the mother can claim Child
Benefit, and when all is equal, the person claiming Child Benefit
can claim child support from the other.
This explicit sex discrimination needs to be removed.
should be no Treasury saving or state compulsion
All child support paid should become extra income for the children's
household. There should be no reduction in any benefits or tax credits
caused by child support payments. (The terminology is "all
child support payments should be disregarded").
Compulsion tends to cause resentment all round, and sometimes drives
a further wedge between the separated parents. All case should be
private cases with no compulsion.
should be formally awarded to the children
Child support should be formally awarded to the child, not to the
parent with care. When the child is young, this only makes symbolic
difference, but as the child gets older, it may bring to the surface
what child support is REALLY for - goods & services for the
benefit of the child. And the child may want someone other than
the parent with care to provide these goods & services sometimes.
In most European countries, the child maintenance is awarded to
the child. This applies to at least Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland,
Germany, Norway, and Sweden. In the Netherlands, the beneficiary
is normally the parent with care for younger children, but older
children may receive child maintenance in their own right.
|Administering the child
Many different ways of operating a child support system have been
tried in the UK, and also in the rest of the world. The perfect
approach has not been found, and commentators sometimes appear to
act according to the principle "the grass is greener over there",
or "the next radical change will work, honest".
Much of the choice appears to be between "a simple scheme
which can't hope to be fair in all details, but may be implementable",
and "a complicated scheme which can't hope to be fair in
all details, but which relies on very fallible human beings and
is incomprehensible to all concerned". When in doubt, KISS!
|Use a formula
to determine the amount
The amount should be calculated according to a formula, and not
rely on the whim of decision makers. This should be predictable,
plausible, and practical.
All of the features above - predictable, plausible, and
practical - are simply characteristics that most people want
from the systems that impact their lives.
closer ties between child support administration and family courts
There has been discussion about whether the CSA should belong to
the Department of Work and Pensions (before that, the Department
of Social Security), or the Inland Revenue. These choices are really
because the CSA is concerned with Treasury savings, although they
also apply because the CSA is an administrative agency.
It would probably be better to be part of the Lord Chancellor's
Department, alongside the family court system. In the long term,
this would help it become more family-friendly.
|Formula / guidelines
for child support
This assumes child support continues to be needed during the 21st
century. If relationship breakdown continues, and children still
continue to cost lots of money to bring up, and if parents tend
to get off benefits and work to bring in money, surely there will
still be a need to sort out the finances over the childhood period?
A formula has to be devised according to what society/government
wants the system to achieve. A society doesn't even have to have
a child support system if this doesn't satisfy some objectives of
that society. Therefore, this doesn't attempt to devise a complete
formula by logic or analysis. Instead, it proposes some features
that any system should have to gain credibility and reduce friction.
However, the assumption, both in the social context and here, is
that the child support system should be primarily designed for and
measured against outcomes for children, rather than
other (probably temporary) objectives such as reduced social security
expenditure or spousal maintenance. There is a gradual trend world-wide
towards thinking of policies from the children's point of view,
and that applies here.
|Use a symmetrical
formula that treats both parents similarly
The UK's current child support system starts with a 2-stage process:
1st, use a very limited amount of information to determine who will
pay whom; 2nd, use much more information to determine how much will
So the fundamental logic of the UK's system has ruled out the possibility
that this "much more information" could determine that
the "very limited amount of information" has made an unfair
or inappropriate decision about who should pay whom. The "very
limited amount of information" is deliberately very limited,
in order that the case can proceed quickly with stage 2. It doesn't
include such information as income, ability to pay, or environmental
factors such as the quality of house the child has with each parent,
so it has nothing useful to do with ensuring that each parent supports
the child in the most effective way.
Many nations and states avoid this blunder. So should the UK -
the same information should (simultaneously) identify who should
pay whom, and how much.
If a child is cared for part time by one parent and part time by
the other, then each parent is, for part of the time, spending money
directly which the other parent should contribute to.
The formula should be symmetrical between the parents, using the
incomes of each parent, to enable a much wider range of personal
situations to be handled fairly.
benefits/credits should not be treated as income
The rule should be: don't attempt to treat tax credits as net income.
(This would apply to all current & future tax credits). But
if the household receives any tax credits, operate the "basic
rate" (15% / 20% / 25%) at all income levels.
Then if & when tax credits become available for all low earners,
even those without a family (perhaps 2003) - remove the concepts
of "flat rate" and "reduced rate" for low earners
from the child support formula entirely! In other words, try to
make the whole scheme vastly simpler than it is. The positive way
of presenting this would be: "the child support formula is
15% / 20% / 25% - but if the household doesn't receive a tax credit,
there is a protection mechanism for low earners based on a "flat
rate" or a "reduced rate"".
should relate to spend on children, not wealth
Even if it is felt desirable for children to share in the wealth
of their parents, sharing can't be done just by the NRP handing
over lots of money to the PWC. It won't all be spent directly &
fully on the children, for example as pocket money, food, clothes,
etc. Research shows that children in better off households don't
get such a large amount extra directly spent on them. The better
off parents spend on average perhaps 20% more than the poorer parents.
The advantage children get isn't mainly from the easy to measure
direct expenditures such as these.
|For future consideration
||Statutory rape of under-aged boys
should not result in liability for child support.
||The social security (benefits) system
should recognise that children don't always have just one household.
||The system should relate to the
expected work patterns of lone parents with children of various ages.
||Children get support from their
parents catering for a much longer time, eg. investments.
||Provide on-line information and