"The truth is out there" - Commentary on "Move to outlaw secret DNA testing by fathers"
by Barry Pearson
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Appendix B: Child support responsibility in the UK

Summary of who is responsible for child support

A summary of who is responsible for child support is:

1. Child support responsibility lies with the biological parents, except for itemised cases including gamete donation, surrogacy, adoption, and those declared to be parents by a court.
2. Although parentage can be “presumed” in certain cases (such as marriage), that is simply to avoid delay in the flow of money. It does not replace the above rule about biological parents.
3. If a man later uses the courts to demonstrate that he does not satisfy the conditions in “1” above, for example he is not the biological father, the CSA will refund payments made to date (at taxpayers’ expense).

For more information, see the following booklet. The extract below deals just with use of courts for cases such as “presumed parentage” or delayed disputes. Most child support DNA tests are used when the application is first made, and are performed without court involvement.

Child support: Disputed parentage and DNA testing
ISBN: 1-85197-949-2. CSL110 - January 2002

Application to the courts under Family Law

At any time the alleged non-resident parent or the parent or person with care can apply direct to a court for the courts to determine parentage.

These decisions are binding on the CSA.

When an application is made, the courts will usually request DNA tests.

What happens once the dispute is resolved?

If the alleged non-resident parent is proved to be a parent of the child any unpaid arrears of maintenance will be due. The CSA will take enforcement action if it is not paid.

If an alleged non-resident parent is proved not to be a parent of a child either by a DNA test result, or a declaration made by a court, the CSA will revise its decision. Any maintenance previously paid can be paid back.

Parliamentary intentions

This is not a side effect of careless wording of the legislation. It is a specific intention of ministers, debated in Parliament and discussed in Committee. I personally believe that it is the right position to take, and I am pleased that the UK is ahead of most of the world in this matter.

For example:

Standing Committee F - February 3rd 2000

Mr. Pickles (Brentwood & Ongar):

Hon. Members will recall that, on Second Reading on 11 January ... my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) raised this issue in relation to one of his constituents with the Secretary of State. He said:

"Can the right hon. Gentleman guarantee that from now on, in every case where an individual is willing to have a DNA test to prove parentage--or more particularly to prove non--parentage--he will be able to do so?"

The Secretary of State replied:

"I do not see why anyone who is willing to undergo a DNA test should have any difficulty in doing so, as that would put beyond doubt whether or not he was the father of a particular child."

Angela Eagle (minister of the Department of Social Security):

In the vast majority of cases--there are always exceptions, as the hon. Member for Brentwood and Ongar amusingly illustrated--any man who is presumed to be the father of a child has the right to apply to the courts for that presumption to be rebutted if he can prove his case.

Select Committee on Delegated Powers and Deregulation
Thirteenth Report - 19th April 2000

Clause 19 - Reduced Benefit Direction

104. Clause 19 replaces section 46 of the Child Support Act 1991. In the new child support scheme, a parent with care who claims benefit may be treated under section 6 as having made an application for child support. However, she has the right to opt-out. Section 46, as replaced by clause 19, provides for a benefit penalty, to be known as a "reduced benefit direction", to apply to a parent with care who, without good cause, opts out of child support, refuses to provide information or refuses a DNA test. This section contains five delegated powers, all of which require the affirmative procedure.

Eighth Standing Committee on Delegated Legislation - Tuesday 9 July 2002
Malcolm Wicks (minister of the Department of Work and Pensions):

Any person with a child support maintenance liability can dispute a maintenance assessment on the grounds that they are not the child's parent. Most people who do dispute that they are a child's parent do so before their liability is assessed. In such circumstances, the agency can offer to arrange for DNA tests to be taken in order to resolve the dispute....

The power to assume parentage allows the agency to assess the non-resident parent's liability. However, some parents do not dispute parentage until after their maintenance liability has been assessed. In those circumstances, if the dispute cannot be easily resolved by the agency, the person might wish to appeal against the maintenance assessment. The effect of the order is to route any such appeal to a court instead of to a tribunal.

House of Lords - Tuesday 9th July 2002
Baroness Hollis of Heigham (minister of the Department of Work and Pensions):

But appeals on the ground of disputed parentage are routed to a court instead of an appeal tribunal by the Child Support Appeals (Jurisdiction of Courts) Order 1993.

Of course, declarations of parentage have a wider legal application beyond child support. They are binding, for example, in immigration and inheritance disputes in the same way as they are binding on child support issues. Therefore, we believe that it is sensible to import the existing powers to go to the courts into the new child support regulations. As a result, this will be binding on the agency.

A non-resident parent can declare and reply directly to the court at any time. Such a declaration is then binding on the CSA. If the person in question is found not to be the parent of the child, any child support maintenance that he may already have paid will be refunded in full by the agency.

Conclusion

There is a risk of a lack of coherence between the policy adopted by the UK's child support system and policies arising from different concerns.

Many relationships unfortunately end in separation, and there are perhaps 300,000 applications to the CSA each year (hopefully reducing). A substantial proportion of all children will experience such separation. In each of these cases, the alleged father can apply for a paternity test, with its implications on later relationships between adults and children. Given the financial consequences, alleged fathers are increasingly doing so. If a later test proves negative, taxpayers refund the payments, so in fact early tests are to be preferred.

A man who is not sure of his biological relationship with a child faces an uncertain financial future, with perhaps tens of thousands of pounds resting on whether or not he is the biological father. It is wrong to hide the existence of such a financial liability from a person.

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Page last updated: 7 July, 2004 © Copyright Barry Pearson 2002