"Children First" & Sharing of Care: Problems with the proposed formula, and a revised proposal
by Barry Pearson
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Related comments

Terminology

Although the terms "PWC" & "NRP" may be suitable for the case where the parents don't share care of the children, they are inappropriate for the sharing case. Alternative terminology does exist, eg. Wisconsin:

- "Parent" means the natural or adoptive parent of the child.
- "Parent with less time" means the parent having physical placement of the child less than 182 days a year.
- "Parent with more time" means the parent having physical placement of the child more than 183 days a year.

This terminology is not perfect, but is more neutral and less emotive than either current or Green Paper terminology.

One reason that this matters is that using terminology which polarises parents is likely to influence the formula. For example, the Green Paper shows signs of being designed for the case where one parent cares all the time and the other cares none of the time, with the shared-care modification then bolted on as an after-thought. Once it is accepted that shared care is common, and in fact to be encouraged, a fairer formula will be desired and sought.

Avoiding significant "steps"

Financial formulae with "steps" (points where small practical differences make big financial differences) lead people to "play the system" and behave badly. Outside the CSA formulae, examples include the working hours and asset valuations which occur in the rules for means-tested benefits, or the income level at which National Insurance is triggered. (This latter is known to be so important that it has been addressed in a recent budget).

Because there are likely to be both financial and personal motives operating in any child support formula, it is important to reduce incentives for people to behave badly. It is likely to be the children who suffer most.

The existing (1991/1995) CSA formula has some key "time steps" - points where small practical differences in time make big financial differences.

One is at 182/183 nights, which is the difference between being a PWC and an AP. The Green Paper retains this, as the 3/4 night step described and criticised in this current document.

Another is at 103/104 nights, where an AP who cares for children for at least 104 nights per year has a reduced liability. The Green Paper replaces this with a series of steps at 1, 2, and 3 nights.

While the reduction of the lower limit from 2 to 1 night per week is welcome, removing the steps entirely, or perhaps making them much smaller (eg. percents of a year) would be less likely to encourage bad behaviour of the form: "I know it makes sense for you to look after the children tonight but that will put you over the 2 night step and reduce my maintenance so I'm taking the children off you".

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Page last updated: 3 November, 2002 © Copyright Barry Pearson 1998