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The quotes provided are normally directly from the original article, but typically whole sentences and paragraphs are omitted, often without indicating where the omission is, but without altering the order of presentation. In some cases people's names are removed, and replaced thus "[X]".

Date & reference Extracts (not necessarily contiguous)

The Times

Jenni Murray

Paying the price of a second family

It's that time of year again when "Can I have . . ?" or "May I go . . ?" or "Would you lend me . . ?" becomes the early morning mantra of every new day.... Even with only one mortgage to pay, one family car to run and the national average of 2.4 offspring, it's a heavy responsibility for all but the very well off. Loughborough University's Centre for Research in Social Policy puts the price of each child from birth to 17 at £54,000, or £3,200 per year, assuming they're educated at non-fee-paying schools. Naturally, no one thinks of the hard financial facts in the first flush of family life, but it is a wonder so few people seem to consider them when they blithely fall in with the notion that love is lovelier the second time around.

Every year some 85,000 families in Britain who have children under the age of 16 go through the divorce courts. Usually the offspring remain in the care of their mother. Generally their father takes up with someone else and starts again. While there are exceptions who remain involved and struggle to keep the kids in the manner to which they are accustomed, given the necessarily reduced circumstances which are the inevitable result of having to run two homes, a significant number of fathers conveniently forget their responsibilities and absent themselves, emotionally or financially or both.

The Child Support Agency was set up in unseemly haste in 1993 in the atmosphere of the notorious speech made by the then Social Security Secretary, Peter Lilley, at the previous year's Conservative Party conference. He took Gilbert and Sullivan's Lord High Executioner as his inspiration and intoned: "I've got a little list of benefit offenders who I'll soon be rooting out . . . young ladies who get pregnant to jump the housing list, and dads who won't support the kids of ladies they have . . . kissed!"

The first head of the agency, Ros Hepplewhite, was a woman with a crusading zeal. She had been dumped by her father as a child, so had experienced the pain and poverty of abandonment. She described her new organisation thus: "This is not an agency dealing with a small and irresponsible element of society. This is a major social change. Paying maintenance will be like paying income tax." Her optimism was misplaced. The CSA's unwieldy methods of calculating payments, and reputation for sheer incompetence, are now legendary. In 1997, when the agency was at its lowest point, 28 per cent of its 10,000 staff resigned in one year.

In addition, a new group of individuals will be brought under the Child Support Agency's remit. It has, in the past, dealt primarily with parents who come within the benefit system. Others were free to utilise their services if they wished, although only a small percentage of the present total are parents with care who are neither on jobseekers' allowance, income support nor family credit. Under the new regulations, any parent who has already made an agreement through the courts, previously considered binding, will be able to appeal to the CSA, have a court order overturned and draw up a new contract. Family lawyers are crying foul. Some balk at the very idea of the new percentage system. Currently the courts work out maintenance on "reasonable need", and it is effectively capped at £5,000 a year for each child, apart from school fees which are considered separately. What, some lawyers are asking, would happen if Bill Gates were an Englishman with three children and charged a percentage of his earnings? He would end up paying the equivalent of the gross national product of a small nation each year.

Others are concerned about the opportunity to tear up "clean break" arrangements worked out with the help of a solicitor and mediation, perhaps where mum gets the family home and dad reduced maintenance payments as a consequence. We might suspect a not too carefully hidden agenda here. Lawyers are notoriously jealous of their hold over these matters and, if the CSA is in a position to take them over, there'll be less work for the legal profession. The Solicitors Family Law Association and the Law Society predict even more bitterness than usual if these court orders can be overturned.

The main benefits will be to the real victims in all this mess: the children. And, maybe, if dad or mum - there are a number of women who are currently being chased for maintenance - can work out clearly in advance what the true cost of pastures new might be, they'll pause and ask themselves honestly, as responsible adults, whether the romantic fantasy of a fresh start with a second family is really all it's cracked up to be.

The Times


Supporting children after divorce

From ROSEMARY CARTER, the Chairman of the Solicitors Family Law Association

Sir, Contrary to Jenni Murray's view (Comment, July 18), the new Child Support Bill will not enable any parent to have an existing court order overturned. The new proposals are not retrospective, and only those parents that receive a court order after the provisions in the Bill come into force will be able to seek a reassessment from the CSA, 14 months after the court order was made.

It is too simplistic to argue that child maintenance should be the means by which the lifestyle of a child of wealthy parents is maintained. Child maintenance is only one of a package of measures that is considered when a family separates or divorces and it is inappropriate to consider one aspect of that package in isolation. That isolated approach is one of the fundamental flaws of both the existing and proposed child support systems and one of the main reasons why the parties and the courts should continue to be allowed to consider cases in the round and why there should not be the opportu- nity to upset carefully drafted agreements or orders at a later date.

Clean break settlements have the benefit of providing certainty for all parties on divorce. In most cases, they provide a home for the women and the children and enable the father to make a fresh start. Given the unsettling nature of a relationship breakdown, the certainty a clean break settlement can deliver should be supported, not undermined. It does not remove the child's entitlement to maintenance but that entitlement should be considered in the light of all the circumstances, not just the father's income.

The Solicitors Family Law Association, contrary to the impression given in the article, has always supported the broad thrust of the reforms. We have long argued for a simplification of the formula and agree with many of the other proposed changes. However, along with the vast majority of the other organisations that work with people involved in relationship breakdowns, we believe that aspects of the reforms have not been fully thought through and that they have the potential, in turn, to create an adversarial process that will undermine agreements and court orders and cause yet more difficulties for families.


Would you trust a man to take the pill?

Men could be popping their own version of the contraceptive pill within five years - but will it catch on, and more to the point will women trust their partners to take it?

(On-line debate)

Men could be popping their own version of the contraceptive pill within five years - but will it catch on, and more to the point will women trust their partners to take it? Edinburgh University scientists say the first clinical trials of the male pill suggest it is 100% effective, with no harmful side effects.

Would you take it? Will it lead to couples being lax about protecting themselves against STDs? Is it time men took more responsibility for contraception? Tell us what you think.

(The debate below has been pruned to points which relate to the CSA. Many men will take the pill, rather than risk up to 18 years payments via the CSA! See a discussion about this topic).

I think it is about time men had an equal standing on whether their want a baby or not. This pill will enable men not to be entrapped by women who want them to be fathers.
Njeri, Kenya

Why are women commenting on this anyhow? This is an issue about men's rights and freedoms. Why should "we" trust you?
Chris, UK

Of course men can be trusted to take the pill.... The guys are relieved because at last they no longer have to trust the women.
Martin Lewis, UK

Most men I know would DEFINATELY take it. Who wants an unwanted baby or the paying out of maintenance? Women who say they could trust men to take it haven't got a clue of how a man's mind works. This pill means EVEN less responsibility.
Steve, England

Personally, I have been waiting for a "Male Pill" for years. Nobody wants an unplanned pregnancy! I have known more than one single mother who has become pregnant while using the pill.... Men have to deal with the lifetime of guilt and the 18 years of child support for their "mistake". Once the pill becomes available, I'll certainly be using it.
Andy Bonazzoli, USA

Everything in the news points towards the male population being irresponsible and lying about taking birth-control measures. However, the media is not so quick to suggest that some small percentage of the female population also lies about taking the female contraceptive pill. Given that pills are, or will soon be available for both sexes, should the question not be; "Would you trust your partner to take the pill" rather than focusing on one sex?
Tony, UK

How many men have ended up as Dads because women decided that they wanted a child and be damned; and told a little 'white lie'. Giving men the pill would give them empowerment over their own bodies and the reproduction process...something women will not like.
Gerry, Scotland

I personally would feel much happier having the responsibility in my hands than that of some airhead woman. The number of times I've heard that they are on the pill, just to get me in bed is amazing. This gives men the freedom of choice and prevents the female of the species trapping us for the rest of our lives. This is a fantastic development for men's right to choose.
Tom, UK

The title of this forum misses an important point. The wonderful point about the male pill is that both sexes will be in control of their fertility. This could mean the end of a woman unilaterally and secretly coming off the pill and intentionally becoming pregnant without any reference to her partner.
Andrew C, UK

Can you trust a man to take the pill? I should say so! In this age of supposed "equality" men are expected to cough up to provide for their kids, even if the mother tricked them into becoming a father (claiming THEY were on the pill). Young men will now be able to protect themselves against the gold diggers who think they can have a baby and get someone else to pay for it!
Jon Ranwell, UK

I'm as keen to avoid being hounded by the CSA for maintenance payments as any potential sexual partner is to avoid carrying an unexpected child.
Ed Cook, London, England

The Times

Errors by CSA 'costing millions'


THE Child Support Agency came under renewed attack yesterday after it was disclosed that errors had been made in a third of all maintenance assessments.
Sir John Bourn, Comptroller and Auditor General, qualified the accounts for the sixth year running after estimating that errors in underpayment and overpayments amounted to £59 million. One in two payments made by absent parents in 1999-2000 were wrong due to an even higher rate of error in previous assessments. Of the £473.6 million paid out by absent parents, £8 million was in overpayments and £51 million underpayments.

A report from the National Audit Office gives a warning that CSA reforms due to come into force in April 2002 could be jeopardised because of the legacy of inaccuracy. The reforms will replace the current complicated system of calculating maintenance with a simplified flat rate levy depending on the number of children. Sir John said: "I continue to be concerned at the high level of error in maintenance assessments. As a consequence, the Exchequer is paying out substantial sums to compensate individuals who have suffered undue hardship and suffering."

Electronic Telegraph

Lorna Bourke answers readers' money worries

Letters to Lorna

THIS week the new Child Support Act received the Royal Assent. Its provisions will affect about one million lone parents eligible to receive child support from an absent partner or former spouse - usually the father. It is also likely to provide the minimum benchmark against which all Court orders for child maintenance are made - even where there is agreement between the two parents. Courts are unlikely to look kindly on divorcing couples where the father is trying to pay less than the new Child Support Act levels.

Because the CSA formula for calculating child maintenance is usually regarded as the very minimum on which divorcing parents can agree, divorce lawyers and middle-class couples feared that the new, simpler calculations, if applied to court orders, could lead to those with very large incomes paying massive amounts in child maintenance. This is unlikely to happen. On July 17, it was announced that the Child Support Act would provide for overall maxima of £300 a week for one child, £400 for two and £500 for three or more. Emma Harte, a divorce solicitor with Gordon Dadds, said: "Few maintenance orders for children are ever more than £10,000 a year per child but, among the better off, the straight percentage calculation was a cause for concern. But the imposition of a cash ceiling will remove the fear of unlimited child maintenance for richer parents."

Both the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) and One Parent Families support the new legislation. Simon Osborne of CPAG said: "The simpler formula for assessment will also lead to more resources being applied to enforcement. We hope that in fact most single parents will be better off." A spokeswoman for One Parent Families said: "The system will be transparent, easy to understand and much, much simpler to operate, which should ensure that more money actually changes hands and gets to the families who need it. The reforms should mean that more lone parents get more of what is owed to them. But this will happen only if the CSA can use the opportunity to focus on enforcement."

Fenland Citizen

Money Worries Led to Police Officer's Death

Child Support Agency took huge amounts from wages

A "popular and well-liked" police officer killed himself with poisonous car fumes at his home in Murrow after suffering from stress-related illness and financial worries. Wisbech coroner William Morris recorded a verdict of suicide into the death of 47-year-old British Transport police officer [X] at an inquest on Monday and called the case a "very sad matter."

Mr Morris referred to an earlier statement made by Mr [X]'s partner during the inquest which stated the Child Support Agency was taking "huge amounts" from his wages, leaving him only a small amount to live on. She said Mr [X] was under a lot of stress and worry and found it difficult to cope on his wages which put "a strain on the relationship." The inquest heard how Mr [X] had tried to kill himself last year with an overdose and in another incident was found near a river after drinking brandy. A British Transport police inspector, David Spence ... told the inquest how Mr [X], who was involved in divorce proceedings with his wife, was sometimes absent from work because of stress-related illness and had received visits from both himself and the force medical officer. He said the payments to the CSA were "greatly disturbing" Mr [X], along with concerns about his daughter, and he was in difficulties with his mortgage payments.

The Times

CSA demands 'drove father to kill himself'


THE fiancée of a British Transport policeman who gassed himself in his car has blamed the Child Support Agency for driving him to suicide. [Y] said yesterday that [X], who had two teenage children, killed himself because of the "impossible" demands made of him by the agency.

Mr [X], 47, from Murrow Banks, Cambridgeshire, was asked to pay £1,217 a month from his salary of £1,798 towards the maintenance of his children. He told friends that the money he was left with to support himself was not sufficient to allow him to buy birthday presents for his children.

Mr [X]'s suicide brings to 55 the number of deaths linked to the CSA. The agency has admitted the possibility of potential connections with two deaths. The campaign group NACSA (National Association for Child Support Action) has documented 42 suicides and eight murders that it believes can be laid at the agency's door.

The Times

Just say no to sex, teenage boys to be told


BOYS who brag about their sex lives, real or imagined, are to be targeted by a government health education campaign aimed at reducing teenage pregnancy. Ministers are keen to help teenage boys to resist the pressure put on them to have sex by friends who make exaggerated claims about their own sexual prowess.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Health said that many teenage boys were not as sexually active as they claim to be. "Only a third of boys aged under 16 are sexually active. Many boys need to be given help turning down sex," she said.

The campaign will remind those who really are sexually active that they could face hefty maintenance bills from the Child Support Agency as soon as they start work if they father a child and then do not stay around to support the mother.

The Times

CSA 'must pay out more for errors'


COMPENSATION payments of up to £1,000 should be paid to Child Support Agency clients who experience "gross inconvenience" through errors or delays, the CSA watchdog says today. Anne Parker, the Independent Case Examiner (ICE) for the CSA says in her annual report that the maximum payment of £250 for maladministration is not enough: "It is essential that the agency and its staff continue to recognise the very significant impact which failures in communication, mistakes and delay have on its clients."

The number of complaints about the CSA has fallen in the last year from 1,536 to 1,226, but the handling time for routine investigations by the ICE has risen by nine weeks to over eight months. More extensive investigations average 51 weeks. Part of the reason for the delays was that the CSA would not provide basic information to the ICE.

The Scotsman



COMPLAINTS to the Child Support Agency fell by a quarter last year. The CSA, which deals with millions of child maintenance cases each year, has faced a wide range of criticisms about the speed and accuracy of its efforts since it started work in April 1993. However its watchdog, the Independent Case Examiner Anne Parker, noted a marked drop in complaints in the past year but insisted there was still room for improvement.

In her annual report, Mrs Parker said: "This year has been marked by improved co-operation between the Child Support Agency and my office which recognised our mutual interest in responding well to customer complaints." She noted, however, that delay, error and poor communications were still the most prominent themes among complainants. She added: "It is essential that the agency and its staff continue to recognise the very significant impact which failures in communications, mistakes and delay have on its clients."

The CSA has faced repeated criticism over its hard-line tactics in seeking maintenance payments from parents. Since its introduction in 1993 demands made by the CSA are understood to have driven a number of people to take their own lives. The financial pressure became too much for some. An inquest heard earlier this month that 47-year-old father of two, PC Terry Brett, committed suicide at his Cambridgeshire home in January after being driven to despair by the crippling payments. And the year following its introduction saw a number of people take their lives because of the payment demands. In March 1994 civilian police worker Derek Atkin, 37, of Grimsby, Humberside, was found dead in his car after being contacted by the CSA over maintenance for his two sons. A few days earlier, DSS administrative assistant Sean Lyford-Smith, 23, was found hanged at his home after facing a trebled maintenance bill. Earlier in the January, an estranged husband contacted by the CSA, was charged with murdering his wife. The 42-year-old man from Wales was later found slumped in a fume-filled car after his wife was stabbed to death.

The Guardian



The Department of Social Security was last night accused of using big brother tactics after a campaign group opposed to the child support agency was forced to remove inflammatory material, including incitements to violence against CSA staff and the name and address of an agency employee, from its website.

The National Association for Child Support Action, which campaigns for the closure of the CSA, deleted the material from its site at after Anita James, the official solicitor for the DSS, wrote to the organisation's internet service provider complaining about material appearing on the website's bulletin boards. The offending content, posted by users of the site, included messages suggesting that opponents of the CSA throw excrement and sulphuric acid at agency employees and attack them with broken glass, as well as giving the name and address of a CSA employee.

Nacsa, which does not itself endorse violent action against CSA employees, has said it will remove the bulletin boards on which the messages appeared next week. The agency's co-ordinator Neale Sheldon said he felt that the DSS action was motivated by government antipathy towards his organisation. "Since the news of the latest CSA-related suicide and the new Child Support Act being approved by parliament at the beginning of August the amount of people visiting our website and becoming full members has been overwhelming.... Mr Sheldon said Nacsa was willing to delete items from the website but would not close it down.

The Times

Threat to close anti-CSA website


LAWYERS acting for the Government have threatened action to shut down a website which included a posting inciting single parents to throw acid in the face of Child Support Agency staff and to damage CSA premises. The site, run by a group of single parents calling themselves the National Association for Child Support Action (NACSA), who are opposed to the CSA, also contained a threat of harm against a member of CSA staff on one of its discussion forums.

The Department for Social Security warned the NACSA's Internet service provider that the material "may breach criminal law" and that it could face court action to shut it down. Within hours the offending material was removed, after which a DSS spokeswoman said it would allow the site to stay providing no similar messages were added. Neale Sheldon, a NACSA spokesman, said the anonymous messages could have been sent by anyone. He said the organisation was totally opposed to anyone committing violence against CSA staff.

Sunday Times

Melanie Phillips visits the London estate where men are increasingly excluded by the rise of a self-reliant matriarchy ruled by single mothers

We're in charge: mothers on the Keir Hardie estate, where men are redundant both at work and at home, and women do not even want them around.

Queens of the lone-parent ghetto

On the Keir Hardie estate in Canning Town, east London, the tiny front gardens are a testimonial to the resilience of the human spirit. Carefully tended, these orderly scraps of ground bloom in the mean streets of one of the country's poorest neighbourhoods. These houses and flats arose from the ashes of the blitz. Rebuilt, the area was then shattered by the catastrophic unemployment that followed the collapse of the docks. Now, this community is threatened by a still-greater devastation from within - a gender war, in which men have found themselves redundant not only at work but at home.

This was illustrated starkly by the experience of 27-year-old Steve, a personable young man who works as a gardener. He had got engaged to his girlfriend Sharon five years ago. "She said from the start she loved me and wanted a baby, so I said okay. We got engaged and she fell pregnant quite quickly." They put down a deposit on a house. But then Sharon's mother, herself a single parent, turned against Steve and Sharon decided she needed her mother more. Steve not only lost his proposed home but was replaced by Sharon's mother, who moved into the new house instead with Sharon and baby Justin. "It was heartbreaking," he said. "I went and saw Justin when he was born and I was over the moon. Sharon and her mum allowed me to see the baby for an hour twice a week. I said I wanted some time of my own with him and to bring him back to see my mum and dad, but her mum was putting her under pressure." Steve eventually got a court order which allows him to bring Justin, now four, to his parents' home for three hours on a Sunday and to visit him at Sharon's once a week.

Steve's mother, who works in a shop, says the problem is that Sharon feels indebted to her mother because she brought her up alone. "Her mother is a manipulative single parent who makes Sharon feel guilty," she said. However, this was not the first time Steve had family problems. It was the third time he had fathered a child.

When he was 22, Steve went to a party and got very drunk. He met Sandra and spent the night with her and within three weeks she told him she was pregnant. "She said, 'I don't know you but I want the baby.' The day she had the baby her sister rang my mum. It was a real shock." Indeed, Steve didn't believe baby Chloe was his until a DNA test showed that she probably was. Sandra has demanded that he pay for the child's upkeep in cash rather than go through the Child Support Agency, almost certainly because she is fiddling social security.

Steve has seen Chloe a few times, although it's been a year since he saw her last. He points dispassionately to her photograph on the wall. "Sandra met a bloke and said, 'That's it, I'd rather you didn't see her.' I've got no bonding with Chloe; I feel closer to my nephew and niece." Throughout this narrative, Steve has presented himself as a victim. There is no suggestion that his own behaviour was irresponsible; the question of whether he should have got married before risking having any children is batted aside with incomprehension.


Child Support Changes -- An Improvement?

By Jane Mack

Did you know that there are now an estimated 1.6 million lone parents in the UK? It's a lot, isn't it? And 90% of them are lone mothers, about half of whom are on benefit of some kind.

It's been nearly 10 years since the Child Support Act was introduced and it's been accepted for a very long time that the whole thing was a complete mess. The Bill was whizzed through Parliament with only the skeleton principle -- that absent parents should financially support their children -- being debated. It was left to the civil servants to sort out the details and being lovers of red tape, the result was a bureaucratic nightmare. So much so that the Child Support Agency spent more time dealing with re-assessments and appeals than chasing those who were in arrears or refusing to pay.

The new rules are certainly much easier to understand, but there are some caveats that have been introduced which are likely to cause as many rows between parents as the Act of 1991 managed to do.

For a start, the income of the resident mother will not be taken into consideration, nor will that of a new partner. You might think that's fair enough -- just because the mother earns a fair whack, that doesn't negate the responsibility owed by the absent father. However, the lone mother could earn huge amounts each year and still demand, and be entitled to, up to 25% of the absent father's income.

What's worse is that these maintenance payments can be reduced on a sliding scale depending on how often that absent father sees the child. For example, if the child stays for 175 nights or more throughout the year, the payments could be halved. Again, that's fair enough on the face of -- it if the father is looking after the child for half the year, then he should only pay half. But what if the resident mother can't afford to lose the full maintenance payment? It would be in her interests to deny contact and in his to pursue it. Won't that lead to yet more arguments between the parents? These factors also mean that, if both parents shared residence of the children AND earned exactly the same amount, the parent regarded as "absent" would still have to pay the parent with the legal Residence Order.

It seems to me that the new laws will cause just as much resentment as the previous law. And while there's no doubt that changes to the Child Support laws are long overdue and should improve things for the lone mother who needs financial help from the father, the new system is not exactly encouraging for fathers who already do their duty.

The Scotsman



My children, four-month old baby Ethan and his two-year-old sister, Cara, were born in the same Glasgow hospital to the same mother, yet Ethan has full British citizenship rights, while Cara does not. As so often in such cases, this bizarre situation is not the result of one bad law, but the combination of two. At the root of the problem, in the eyes of UK law, is the fact that I and my Australian partner, Nicole, choose to remain unmarried. A spokesman for the Home Office confirmed that Britain still considers the children of unmarried parents to be illegitimate. Where parents are not married, the authorities recognise only the mother as parent. So although I'm a British citizen and my name appears on the birth certificates of both children, my nationality has no bearing on the nationality of my kids.

The continuation of British statutes on illegitimacy also carry serious implications for the wider working of the law. Amidst all the talk of citizens' "rights and responsibilities", scant attention appears to have been paid to the contradictions created by the state's rulings on unmarried parents. Unmarried mothers, as the only recognised parent, would appear to be carrying even more legal responsibilities for their children than married women. Unmarried fathers, on the other hand, still have legally enforceable responsibilities (for example, under the regulations of the Child Support Agency) without having the same parental rights as married men.

The Guardian



Your marriage is on the rocks and your misery is absolute. What do you do next? Call the cameras in, if you follow the lead of the four couples featured in Channel 4's Break Up, which starts tonight. On the surface, a fly-on-the-wall documentary series about divorce negotiations would seem to be just another in the series of cheap-to-make real-life programmes that have flooded our screens in recent years, their Reithian values seemingly in inverse proportion to their ratings figures. And Channel 4, after all, brought us Big Brother, the colossus of the genre.

Jane and Graham, the subjects of the first film, start on a course of mediation on the advice of their solicitors. 'We all love happy endings, but usually it's too late for reconciliation when people come for mediation,' says Ruth Smallacombe, a mediator and a governor of the UK College of Family Mediators, who served as a consultant on the series. 'This is not relationship counselling. The best we can do as mediators is to help people to think about the implications financial and practical of the decision they have already made, and get the appropriate support, particularly if there are children involved.' In the mediation sessions Jane and Graham are seen working out their financial arrangements, how things will be divided up, and discussing custody of their three small children. The mediators encourage both husband and wife to articulate their feelings and, when the atmosphere becomes heated, intervene to suggest how certain points of issue might be resolved.

Worse is to follow. Having received a letter from the Child Support Agency telling him how much he will be expected to pay Jane every month, Graham announces that this means he will have to rethink all the arrangements that were agreed in the mediation sessions. The film ends with Graham flying off on holiday with a new girlfriend, and the news that Jane will be taking him to court to seek financial support.

The Observer

One parent, many choices

Child support still not child's play

Changes at the CSA may make claims simpler, but justice may be more elusive.

Margaret Dibben explains why

The Child Support Agency has more foes than friends among both people claiming maintenance and those paying it. The formula for calculating child support payments is complex and can include up to 144 separate computations. Philip Rutter, matrimonial partner with solicitor Collyer-Bristow, says: 'The formula is so complex that well over half the assessments are wrong.' From April 2002, the law will change with the intention of simplifying the system, but it is already being criticised. The lawyer says: 'For some people it is a good thing. For others it is going to be a nightmare and create greater inequalities than there are at present.'

The new formula, like the old, works on the basis that one parent has care of the children and the other does not.... But, says Rutter: 'While the new formula sounds sensible, it is too simple. It does not take account of the income earned by the parent with care, making a mockery of the established principle that both parents should make a financial contribution to the upkeep of their children if they can.' A mother with care may earn more than the father, yet her income will not be taken into account: 'She may end up with the lion's share of the capital because she will have the children most of the time, and he is stuck with a bit of capital but having to fund a large mortgage so he has a home big enough for himself and for the children to visit.'

Rutter says the new formula:
- Precludes formal private arrangements between parents - forcing them eventually to go to the CSA, and unravelling existing binding court orders.
- Reduces the amount of support when the child stays overnight with the paying parent, possibly leading to custody battles.
- Does not take into account any childcare costs or school fees that a paying parent may already make.
- Will not take into account a paying parent's major expenses, such as mortgage, commuting or the costs of a new family (although having other children will mean a slight reduction).
- Does not take into account the capital resources of either parent, so that someone can have vast investments but pay nothing if they have no job.

The Observer



I AM a single parent with a court order for maintenance payments for my 15- year-old son, arranged in 1991. I receive pounds 129 a month, plus pounds 30 recently agreed voluntarily. I understood, when the Child Support Agency was established in 1993, that it would take over all agreements arranged through the courts. Is this still the plan?

JS, Haddington

THE original idea was that the courts would cease to have jurisdiction, and all applications to vary court orders would be made to the CSA, although this has not happened in practice. But under new legislation, from 2002 the CSA alone will have jurisdiction to determine child maintenance. It is believed that, for existing court orders, jurisdiction will remain with the courts for one year after the new law takes effect. Then it, too, will go to the CSA alone.

Sunday Telegraph

Children 'must have equal access' to both parents after divorce

By David Bamber, Home Affairs Correspondent

THE Government is to demand for the first time that the children of divorced or separated parents do not lose contact with their fathers. The Home Office has funded a guide, to be issued to all separating or divorcing parents, which will explain that children need access to both parents equally. The booklet will be distributed to all parents who use the family courts.

Paul Boateng, the Home Office minister, has written the strongly worded preface for the guide in which he says: "The distress and damage done to children when parents separate can be reduced if they retain strong and loving bonds with both parents." The guide comes after Sir Bob Geldof, the Live Aid organiser and former rock star, personally lobbied Mr Boateng for a change in the law following his bitter custody battle with his late wife Paula Yates.

The guide will not change the law, but it will send out a signal that the Government believes that children must see their fathers. Critics claim that it is all "spin" and that the law must be altered to give male parents a legal right to see their offspring in almost every circumstance following a separation. Families Need Fathers, a pressure group set up 26 years ago to campaign for fairer treatment for men, believes that for years courts have routinely given custody of children to their mothers while restricting access for fathers. Many men think that the entire judicial process is weighted against them. The situation has worsened since the introduction of the Child Support Agency. Many fathers have been outraged that they are funding their children's upbringing without any contact.

Sue Secker, the guide's author and a research associate attached to the Policy Research Group at University College, Northampton, said that it was aimed at bringing about "much needed changes to policies and practices".... The Guide to Shared Parenting After Separation, funded by the Home Office's Family Policy Unit, makes it explicit for the first time that it is in the child's best interests to maintain contact with both parents, not just the mother.

Irish Times



A proposal to allow courts in Northern Ireland to withdraw driving licences from parents who refuse to pay child support has been criticised by the leader of the Women's Coalition. Ms Monica McWilliams was speaking as the Child Support, Pensions and Social Security Bill was debated in Stormont yesterday. 'There are huge concerns here that I believe have human rights implications. Removing the driving licence from individuals is extremely punitive,' she said. She feared that parents who lost their licences could lose their jobs.

The Social Development Minister, Mr Maurice Morrow (DUP), said the Bill would simplify the existing system. 'Mothers and their children will get what they are due and get it quickly.'

Dr Ian Paisley (DUP) welcomed the Bill as a 'definite step forward'. He said he had 'never found an agency that acted more like a Gestapo' than the Child Support Agency. The Bill was passed.


Divorce: he's richer, she's poorer

Impact of marriage break-up does not hit both partners equally, research shows

Amelia Hill

Divorce makes men richer and women poorer. The finding has astonished researchers involved in a major study of the effects over time on the partners of a failed marriage, and confounds the common belief that both partners suffer financially. The research tracked 10,000 people over a decade and found that men's disposable income increases by an average of 15 per cent after divorce, while women see theirs fall by around 28 per cent, mirroring the average gain they experience on marrying. 'Men bring more, economically speaking, to relationships and walk away with more, too,' said Dr Jonathan Scales, a research fellow at the Institute of Social and Economic Research, which carries out the British Household Panel Survey with the University of Essex.

The sharp difference in earnings between the sexes partly explains why women see their incomes fall so dramatically after divorce. Unmarried women earn, on average, around 14 per cent less than male colleagues. 'There are also certainly divorced men who are getting their children brought up on the cheap,' said Scales, citing the Child Support Agency's report that only 48 per cent of absent fathers regularly pay full child support, while 29 per cent pay nothing at all.

Gay Cox, a divorce expert at Family Mediation Scotland, said she had seen many cases where men's incomes have increased after their divorce. 'The earning capacity of divorced men increases for many reasons. There is such a fear of ending up poorer that newly divorced men frequently work their backs off to increase their earning capacity, taking advantage of the fact that there is now nothing to stop them working 18-hour days.' This work binge is often spurred by a fear that, if they lapse in their financial commitments, the men's former spouses may resort to using children as emotional blackmail, she maintains.

The Independent

To love, honour and pay up

Almost half the marriages in Britain end in divorce, but the last few months have produced a dramatic jump in numbers. This sudden spate reflects changes in rules on splitting pensions at divorce, which take effect from 1 December. "Move now while old rules last," is the motto for most of the men - and it is men - who are making the break.

Pensions are only one asset, and the younger people are, the smaller and less significant pensions will be in any settlement. The biggest issues will be provision for children living at home, how long the marriage has lasted and the overall contribution - not just financial - they have made to it. Normally wives receive custody of the children and their housing needs come first. They will live in the family house, though if it is particularly large the courts can give part of its value to the ex-husband. But often he can only "cash in" his share when the place is sold, after the children have grown up and moved away.

So much for the lump sum settlement. But maintenance, or regular payments, will normally come into the picture if children living at home are involved, particularly if they are young and the mother has given up a job to look after them. The couple can always agree a figure themselves as part of the divorce settlement. But if there are any disagreements, the government's Child Support Agency will make a decision on how much income should move from husband to wife, taking into account their respective incomes and the ages of the children.

The Independent

How to divorce a millionaire

When it comes to divorce, the role of wife and mother has, for the first time, been given equal value to that of the family breadwinner in a groundbreaking judgment by the House of Lords. Five law lords last week acknowledged that the family courts had not kept pace with the times, and laid down guidelines which could see wives in "big money" divorces successfully laying claim to half of the family's joint assets.

The judgment, described as "staggering" by one family lawyer, comes at a time of uncertainty for divorcing couples. From December 1, new pension- sharing arrangements come into force which will, for the first time, allow wives to split their husbands' pensions to create a new pension for themselves. At the same time, family lawyers are warning all divorcing couples that reforms to the Child Support Agency will make decisions over child maintenance unpredictable, even though they don't come into force for another 18 months.

The Times

Who cares wins

The novelist Ian McEwan won custody of his sons last week against the wishes of his former wife. He is one of an increasing number of men willing to fight to keep their children after divorce.

Margarette Driscoll reports

One of the hardest-fought separations ever to come before the courts reached its final chapter last week: the novelist Ian McEwan won custody of his children after a lengthy battle with his former wife, Penny Allen. The author of such dark novels as The Cement Garden and The Comfort of Strangers became one of a growing number of men who, against the odds, keep their children after their marriages fail.

Allen had sued for divorce in 1994, and at first they both retained access to their sons, William, now 17, and Gregory, 15. But when Allen moved to France to pursue her career as a meditation tutor and faith healer, she wanted the boys with her. In the end courts in both England and France preferred the boys to be with their father. Each case, of course, has its own merits. But to many the prospect of a father winning custody of the children in a divorce battle would have seemed remote barely a generation ago. The numbers who succeed are still small, but more and more men are no longer willing to stand on the sidelines of family life, giving up their children without a fight.

British courts still tend to view families through the prism of the 1950s, with mum at the centre of hearth and home and dad hovering somewhere around the perimeter. This meant that men won custody of their children only if, as in the case of the late Earl Spencer, father of Princess Diana, their wives "bolted", leaving the children behind, or if they could prove their wives to be unfit mothers. The battle lines, however, are shifting. There are now about 140,000 fathers in Britain who are lone parents. The Child Support Agency (CSA) is chasing more than 50,000 women for maintenance, mostly due to ex-husbands who are looking after children. During the past couple of years, both here and in America, working mothers have lost custody of their children in precedent-setting cases.

Do more men deserve to win custody of their children? The rising number of local support groups formed to air men's grievances about the raw deal they get from the courts reveals that something is wrong with the system of allocating custody as it operates now. Much of the resentment over the CSA was caused by men being chased for money to support children they never see: within a few years of divorce, 50% of men lose contact with their children, worn out by the strain of forced conversations and dreary visits to the park on their one-day-a-week access. The court system as it stands reflects family life as it used to be, with the mother as primary carer. But family life is changing. In interviews earlier this year with a group of 33-year-olds who have been followed from birth under the National Child Development Study, 36% who were brought up in two-earner families said that their fathers had been the main carers. Of those who are now in two-earner families of their own, most said they shared childcare equally. Fathers and Families in the UK, a report by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation published last year, said that, "although men might see themselves as less skilled than other carers, their contribution can be crucial".

The answer, however, may not be to award men more legal custody, but to adopt more of a compromise. The tendency towards winner-takes-all arrangements reflects the notion that children need a single, unchanging home to provide a stable base. But that idea is now being challenged. In America the courts are increasingly deciding on "shared residence" rather than awarding sole care to one parent, with limited access for the other. And in America, say experts, men get to play a larger part in their children's lives than the sad old "Saturday dad" so familiar here.

The Times

Girl, 16, fights father in court for school fees


A TEENAGER from a broken home will face her estranged father across a courtroom today when she will ask a judge to make him pay her school fees.
In an action that will be watched across the country by fathers who have split from first families, Nicole Lavelle, 16, will make legal history when she seeks the £700 a month she needs to continue at King’s School, Worcester.

Her father Callum Lavelle, vice president of an American computer company, has allegedly refused his support even though he used to pay for her to attend a £13,000 a year school of his choosing when she lived with him in Dunblane.

Mrs Lavelle was formerly in business with her husband as co-directors of Knight Porter Baillie, a computer services consultancy based in Dunblane. Their marriage broke down in 1996 and the company was dissolved soon after. She is pursuing Mr Lavelle for maintenance through the Child Support Agency but Nicole must take separate legal action to recover the school fees.

BBC Scotland

Girl 'forced' to sue father

BBC Scotland's Kate Fawcett reports

"Nicole rejected pleas from her father to transfer to Dunblane High"

A teenager has said she was forced to take her father to court in an attempt to make him pay her private school fees because of a feud between her divorced parents. Nicole Lavelle, 16, formerly from Dunblane, has raised an action at Stirling Sheriff Court against her father Callum, the vice-president of an American computer company. She is claiming £6,600 a year - or a £15,000 lump sum - to cover the costs of her education at a private school in Worcester for the duration of her A levels.

But her father told the court he could not fund her schooling because of the debts caused by his divorce. "He said he was struggling with the fees at Harrogate and that he had just been contacted by the Child Support Agency. Mr Lavelle - who admitted to having a gross annual income of more than £100,000 - told the court he did not have any problem paying the school fees until this year. "My divorce was very acrimonious and left me without any assets and a considerable amount of debt to service - debt that I am still servicing today," he said.

The Times

Girl in fees fight says father made suicide threat


A FATHER who drives a Jaguar and earns more than £100,000 pleaded poverty yesterday when his estranged daughter took him to court to sue for her private school fees. Nicole Lavelle, 16, made legal history as the first child to use the Scottish “Right to Aliment” law to try to extract school fees from a parent. She went to Stirling Sheriff Court to seek the £700 a month she needs to continue as a day pupil at King’s School, Worcester.

He told her that he had been contacted by the Child Support Agency. “He said that people who were contacted by the Child Support Agency committed suicide. I told him he shouldn’t have said that, and if that was the way he was going to do things, I’d rather be with my mum,” Miss Lavelle said.


Girl, 16, sues father over payment of school fees

Gerard Seenan

A schoolgirl yesterday took her estranged father to court in an attempt to force him to pay her private school fees. Nicole Lavelle, 16, told Stirling sheriff court that her father, Callum, was happy to pay £12,000 a year for her to attend an exclusive school of his choosing, but withdrew his support when she decided to go to a cheaper school closer to her mother's home.

She said her father, who is reported to earn £85,000, told her that he had been contacted by the Child Support Agency. "He told me that people who were contacted by the Child Support Agency committed suicide," she added. It was at this point that Miss Lavelle moved to the school closer to her mother, Belinda, with whom she now lives.

Electronic Telegraph

Teenage girl takes her father to courtover school fees

By Auslan Cramb, Scotland Correspondent

A TEENAGE girl made legal history yesterday when she took her father to court to force him to pay her school fees. Nicole Lavelle, 16, who wore the uniform of King's School, Worcester in court, wants her father, Callum, 46, to pay fees of £700 a month, or a lump sum of £15,000, while she sits her A-levels and completes her education.

Miss Lavelle told Stirling sheriff court that her father announced in 1998 that she would be going to Harrogate Ladies' College because his job was going to take him abroad. She said that he was happy to pay her boarding fees of £12,000 a year but refused to pay £6,000 to keep her as a day pupil in Worcester, where she moved after a reconciliation with her mother. He also told her that he was being pursued by the Child Support Agency for maintenance payments and warned that some fathers had committed suicide in those circumstances.

Under the Family Law (Scotland) Act 1985, Miss Lavelle is asking him to pay her fees plus music lessons and trips abroad. A decision will be issued later.


Raped wife 'must pay attacker'

The CSA wants up to a third of the victim's net income

A woman who was raped by her husband has been ordered to pay him thousands of pounds in child maintenance, it has been reported. The 43-year-old told The Independent newspaper that the payments will deprive her of the £14,000 she was awarded in 1996 in the UK's first civil damages action for rape.

CSA spokeswoman Emma Quantrill told BBC News Online she could not discuss any individual case but confirmed that the agency would be obliged to accept an application for maintenance in this type of situation.

The woman's husband, a welder for a leading vehicle manufacturer, won custody of the couple's two sons, now aged 14 and 16, before the court case. The family court ruled the boys should be with their father in the city where they went to school.

She earns £14,000 a year as a secretary but told The Independent that the Child Support Agency (CSA) is asking her to pay her former husband up to a third of her take-home pay.

The Independent

Raped wife must pay attacker child maintenance, says CSA

By Robert Verkaik, Legal Affairs Correspondent

A woman who was raped by her husband must pay him thousands of pounds in child maintenance, the Child Support Agency (CSA) has told her. The woman, aged 43, fears the payments will cancel the £14,000 in damages she was awarded in a historic judgment that found her husband guilty of rape. Before the case, he had won custody of their two sons in a divorce hearing.

The CSA confirmed yesterday that it was assessing the woman's level of contribution. A CSA spokeswoman said that, although this was a "sensitive issue," there was no CSA policy that covered her situation.

The 1996 case was the first civil damages action for rape, brought after the Crown Prosecution Service decided not to bring criminal charges against the husband. The civil case judge in Bradford described the 1992 attack as a violent assault that had left the wife requiring psychiatric treatment. The initial award of £7,000 was laterdoubled. The woman has since remarried and moved to West Yorkshire, where she earns £14,000 as a secretary. In 1994, before she brought the civil action, the woman divorced her husband because of unreasonable behaviour but lost custody of her boys, now 14 and 16, when the family court ruled that they should be returned to their father in the city where they were at school.

The woman said that the CSA was asking her to pay her former husband, a welder for a leading vehicle manufacturer, up to one-third of her net income for maintenance. "There should be something to stop a rapist being paid by the victim, even if it's supposed to be for the children," she said. "He still wants to control me and this is his way of making me have to think about him and the rape." Under the Child Support Act 1991, all absent parents have a responsibility for the financial maintenance of their children but only 6 per cent of those who are required to make such payments are mothers.

The Guardian

Servicemen slipping through CSA net


Thousands of servicemen who have left their families are able to escape paying their child maintenance in full, "aided and abetted" by the Ministry of Defence, it emerged last night. Archaic rules mean military personnel need only pay the Child Support Agency a quarter of their salary at most - instead of the 30% which can be demanded of the rest of the population.

The anomaly was exposed in the Commons last night when Labour's Caroline Flint told of a constituent who received pounds 77 a month less than the amount demanded by the court because her ex-husband was a serving soldier. Faced with his refusal to pay for 13 months, the courts had imposed a deduction of earnings orders for pounds 488 a month, but the sergeant, who had since remarried and had another child, paid just pounds 410. The total shortfall means the mother of two, an army wife for 11 years, is owed over thousands in arrears. But attempts to gain the constantly rising amount have failed, with the MoD refusing to allow bailiffs even to enter his barracks.

Last night, Ms Flint, MP for Don Valley, accused the MoD of "almost helping fathers escape their responsibility" by "hiding behind archaic minimum pay regulations". The rules, brought in in 1955, were originally designed to guarantee servicemen's families a minimum income if they were forced to pay disciplinary fines, but ironically now had "the perverse effect of limiting a family's income". It could be seen as a case of "Join the army, and escape the CSA".

The situation has angered the social security secretary Alistair Darling. But the change must come from the MoD, a social security spokesman said last night. The armed forces minister, John Spellar, said the service families task force was doing "excellent work" in addressing such issues.


Families at War: Transcript

This is the full transcript of Frontline Scotland's Families at War programme broadcast on 12 December and presented by Ewan McIlwraith.

EWAN McILWRAITH: Divorce and separation can devastate families, and children are caught in the middle. And if it comes to the court battle, they can be used as weapons by warring parents, their wishes lost amid the bitterness and recrimination.

But children are fighting back. They are getting their own solicitors, and Scotland is leading the way as young children take their parents to court to dictate where they live, and with whom. Like 10-year-old Yasmin, who successfully asked a court to remove her father from her life. Others are suing parents to fund their education.

(These are very few extracts, concerning the CSA, from a large article).

EWAN: Tim Shread is 19, and has started college in Aberdeen. He wants to take his mother to court. Tim now lives with his father in a small council house in Inverurie - a long bus journey from college. He stopped seeing his mother when his parents split up four years ago. Tim's father received money for his son through the Child Support Agency. But that ended when he was 18. Tim now gets around £200 a month for the college bursary.

TIM SHREAD: It's only fair that my mother should pay for my upkeeping, instead of having...instead of just dumping me...leaving me with my father, and letting him suffer all the...all the consequences, and well... I think it's her turn to pay her share. I read in the newspaper about another student at university suing their parents for maintenance, and he won the case. So, I thought, well, that's what I'll do. I went to see my solicitor, asked him about it. He said yes it was possible, and it would be okay. So, I said, okay then, we'll pursue that case.

MICHAEL SHREAD: The first thing I found after she'd left was that she had been having an affair, and I immediately started divorce proceedings, and made claim also that I have custody of Timothy. She fought the custody. Timothy was interviewed by a sheriff at Banff Sheriff Court, and Timothy quite clearly stated that even if the court awarded custody to my ex-wife, to his mother, he would not obey that instruction, he wanted to remain with me. At the moment I'm unemployed, so obviously the amount of money I have available needs to go on bare necessities like heating, light, food, and council tax, and other debts.

TIM: My mother has paid absolutely nothing towards my upkeep, and I don't think that's fair on my father for one thing. And I think that she is my mother, therefore she should pay something towards my upbringing.

EWAN: Legislation in 1985 meant that parents have a duty to support children in full time education up to the age of 25. It has been mainly students suing estranged parents following a family break-up that have used the law. Tim's decision wasn't taken lightly.

That's Life! magazine

Show Some Support

Miss L Whittle, Wallasey, Merseyside

Although I believe in what then Child Support Agency (CSA) stands for, I think it unfairly penalizes parents who do take responsibility for their kids.

Because my boyfriend and I didn't choose to live together and I stay with my parents, they take a large sum of money off him each week. Yet if we lived together, he wouldn't have to pay them anything. I wouldn't mind if he was irresponsible, but he adores our daughter and makes sure we never go without. The CSA doesn't take this into account and continues to take his earnings, which I think is wrong. We are still a couple so why aren't we being treated as such? Does anyone else have this problem?

The Independent

Government will clamp down on the DIY paternity test 'cowboys'

By Marie Woolf, Chief Political Correspondent

Do-it-yourself paternity testing kits are to face a clampdown by ministers with a new code of practice aimed at stopping cowboy DNA testing companies operating over the internet. Ministers are expected to draw up plans for new government standards to outlaw DNA testing by fathers using samples from mothers and children which are not verifiable or gained with consent.

Home DNA testing kits are now widely available on the internet for up to $300 (£220) and offer testing of paternity using cheek swabs or DNA tests using strands of hair. Most laboratory tests on DNA samples involve blood samples of the mother, child and alleged father. But do-it-yourself kits enable fathers to examine whether the child has their DNA in the living room using a kit sent in the post. Ministers are concerned that people are being exploited and that "the interests of the child" are not being considered.

There has been a sharp rise in the use of DNA testing to resolve disputes over paternity in the UK since the Child Support Agency began intervening to make absent fathers contribute financially to their children's upbringing. The Department of Health is planning to instruct the Child Support Agency, which often uses DNA testing to confirm the identity of the father, to outlaw the use of paternity kits which do not meet the new standards.

The Government's code of practice will fall short of a complete ban on tests bought over the internet but is likely to outlaw results which use cheek and hair samples obtained without permission. The Government code is expected to ensure that a proper "chain of custody" of the DNA can be determined and that the results are verified or witnessed by an independent person.

The Independent

Judge tells father to pay girl's school fees

By Ben Russell, Education Correspondent

A teenager won a court battle yesterday to force her father to pay her private school fees. Callum Lavelle was ordered to pay Nicole's £6,600-a-year fees after a judge described him as "cold and unfeeling", with no sign of warmth towards his daughter.

Mr Lavelle, who earns £112,000 a year, argued that he could not afford to keep paying the fees because his bank manager had asked him to curtail his spending and he was being pursued by the Child Support Agency. But in a written judgment handed down yesterday, Sheriff Wyllie Robertson said it was "reasonable" for Mr Lavelle to pay the fees.

Miss Lavelle's parents separated in 1996 and were divorced in March 1998. The girl remained in Dunblane with her father, while Mrs Lavelle moved to England. But she was sent to board at Harrogate Ladies' College when Mr Lavelle secured a job with a computer company based in Massachusetts. She left the school after her GCSEs, and enrolled as a day pupil at King's School, moving in with her mother, her mother's new partner, Jim Whitehurst, and her sister Stephanie.


'Cold' father ordered to pay school fees

Gerard Seenan

A teenager yesterday won a legal battle to force her estranged father to pay for her to attend a school that allowed her to be with her mother.
Nicole Lavelle, 16, took Callum Lavelle, 46, to court under the Family Law (Scotland) Act after he refused to pay her £6,600 annual fees. He had been happy to pay £12,000 a year for her to attend an exclusive school of his choosing, but not for her to go to a cheaper private school closer to her mother's home.

Initially she and her father lived in a rented flat in Dunblane but, after the pressures in his job increased, he decided to send her to boarding school. For a time, she attended Harrogate Ladies' College in Yorkshire. But, as she watched the day girls return home each evening, she came to believe she was missing family life. She decided to enrol in Cheltenham Ladies' College so she could spend weekends with her mother and sister, Stephanie, who lived in Peopleton, near Worcester, and longer breaks with her father.

The court heard, however, that Mr Lavelle gave his daughter an ultimatum: stay at Harrogate and keep her relationship with him alive, or move school, form improved relations with her mother, and never see him again. Miss Lavelle chose to move in with her mother and attend King's School, Worcester. She said her father refused to pay her fees, claiming he could not afford them since his bank had told him to curtail his spending and he was being pursued by the child support agency.

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