A Fair Shared-Care Formula for Child Support
by Barry Pearson
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2.4 Flaws in the formula for exactly equal sharing of care

This is probably a rare case, and is not the key injustice described in this letter. But it is particularly grotesque in its implications.

"In the few cases where care is shared equally, there are clearly questions about who is the parent with care and who is the non-resident parent." [16]

No, there cannot be such a question! The very terms with care and non-resident by definition relate to the period of stay with a parent, and here this is equal.

Clearly the White Paper's concern here is to be able to apply these labels to the parents under all circumstances, however bizarre. The White Paper gives a clue about why it tries to do this:

"Child support will only be a requirement if Income Support or income-based Jobseeker's Allowance is paid for the children. In these circumstances, the taxpayer has a right to expect that maintenance is paid, even if the parent who is not claiming benefit for the children has equally shared care." [16]

The White Paper's logic appears to be that if one of the parents is claiming benefits, the other parent should help financially to relieve the cost to the taxpayer. Quite right! But it doesn't actually implement its own logic, and so fails in some circumstances to reduce benefits spending where it could do so.

The way to reduce benefit spend is to identify if one is on means-tested benefits and have the other parent pay an appropriate amount of money to the one on means-tested benefits. There is no intention in the White Paper to identify the one on means-tested benefits. Yet it is obviously incredibly easy to do so.

The fair shared-care formula described earlier does precisely this. Because in that case each parent is financially responsible while the absent parent, but a parent on benefits who shares care has a zero assessment, then the result is that an earning parent would pay half of the full assessment at the equal-sharing point. (Irrespective of who gets the Child Benefit. Child Benefit is irrelevant - what matters is who is claiming means-tested benefits).

The derivation of the White Paper's approach is probably: "when mother and father share care equally, the mother is expected to receive Child Benefit and not work, while the father is expected to work and pay money to the mother".

Why? What does this say about the contempt held by government about the ability of mothers to care and work, and the contemptuous role assigned by government towards caring fathers who must also supply more than their share of money?

The White Paper attempts to justify this by quoting historical statistics:

"As an alternative, it was suggested that if care is shared, the parent with care's income should be taken into account in establishing maintenance liability.... Table Two shows that there is only a tiny number of current cases of equal shared care where the parent with care has a substantial income." [18]

There are a number of reasons why this is a bad argument:

1. Injustice isn't excused just because it only applies to a minority of people. Those people are impacted 100%, not just a few %, by the injustice.
2. If there really are only a minority of people affected, then the administrative cost of solving those cases will be small. The fair shared-care formula doesn't cost any more to administer the majority of cases, and very little more for that minority of cases.
3. But, more important, the whole thrust of government policy is to change those proportions. The government is in favour of shared care: ministers say "children are entitled to the emotional and financial support of both parents" - "emotional" as well. The government has implemented New Deal for Lone Parents to help PWCs become earners. So "two earning parents sharing care" is the clearly the government's target for separated parents, and any new scheme should focus on the results of this policy, not irrelevant historical statistics.
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Page last updated: 12 December, 2003 © Copyright Barry Pearson 2002