While there are many parents that do the right thing in paying child support and many working hard to do so, there are others who are not. “Deadbeat dads” are being targeted in a shake-up of child support in Australia.
Child Support Arrangements Due For Overhaul
In 2013, luxury items including boats, cars and property worth up to $4 million were seized from 172 parents. These are parents deliberately avoiding their financial responsibilities. They cried ‘poor’ – that they could not afford to pay child support – or just did not want to part with their cash for their children. Marise Payne, who was the Human Services Minister at the time said, “It’s not acceptable for parents to actively avoid their child support responsibilities. There are no winners and often it is their own children who suffer as a result. . . child support payments ensure children receive the financial support they need. In most cases parents do the right thing by their children.”
A federal parliamentary inquiry has recommended a serious shake-up – the kind that hasn’t been seen in more than a generation. There are 25 recommendations in the sweeping reforms being put forward by the House of Representatives social policy and legal affairs committee, including the proposal that parents spending money on drugs, alcohol, tobacco or gambling will have their children’s maintenance money quarantined if they are withholding child support.
Another recommendation was that those who refuse to pay should be fined and mediation be made mandatory for warring couples. The committee believes that this may negate ongoing fights over more expensive items such as orthodontics, school fees and clothing. Mediation could help parents look at assets they own and take into account the actual costs of each family. Existing support payments are based on a formula which reflects average costs rather than specific families’ needs and expenditure. Once an agreement is reached though the supervised mediation process, the Child Support Agency would then enforce that agreement.
There is currently $1.4 billion owed in child support. That’s a lot of children who may have a custodial parent in hardship. By making these changes, there are less families likely to be needing greater welfare support due to a parent withholding support payments.
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The committee also suggests a review of the “costs of children” table to ensure that it is reflective of our current economic climate. In addition to that there is the recommendation that after-tax income instead of gross income be used to figure out support payments for parents. This is to help with various issues currently surrounding the complexity of payments, including mothers who are not allowing a father to see his children despite Family Court orders for shared custody.
There are always two sides to a story. “The most common complaints by parents (mostly fathers), especially those who have new families to support, are that they are paying too much, they shouldn’t have to pay child support when they can’t see their children, and that child support is essentially a form of alimony,’’ the submission states. “By contrast, the most common complaints by parents eligible for support (mostly mothers) are that payments do not cover the cost of children, payments do not occur or are irregular, old debts are not pursued, and the system can be manipulated to minimise or avoid child support obligations altogether.’’
Men make up more than 90 per cent of parents paying child support. Many of these ensure that payments are made from month to month, even though they may not see their children. Such is the case of James Gorry, whose ex-wife took their daughter to India. He has not seen or spoken to his daughter since they left in 2011, but he is still required by the Child Support Agency to pay $1700 per month in financial support to his ex-wife. “I want to make it very clear I have absolutely no problem paying child support because my daughter is my responsibility,” he said, but he would like to have contact with Alice and know that the money is being used for her benefit.
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Two Stories of Child Support
One father in the US on the other end of the spectrum. Patrick McKinnon, has been sentenced to 24-60 months in prison for refusing to pay support to his children. He currently owes $53,222.46 in back payments. He was heard to say, “It would be a cold day in hell before she [his ex-wife] gets any money from me.” The sad thing about these cases is that the children are the ones who end up being punished in the long term.
And while some parents are doing all they can do to avoid paying support, there are some who do all they can with what they have. In 2002 an Italian couple split and the ex-husband, Nicola Toso, was to pay $450 each month in support payments for the daughter the couple share. But in 2008 when the country was in financial crisis, the father’s business suffered and he was unable to pay the cash each month. Instead, he ensured that his ex-wife received $450 worth of baked goods from his take-away business of which pizza was a staple.
The daughter of the baker testified in court to the integrity of her father in fulfilling all of his other custody obligations. Although the ex-wife was not happy with what she called ‘beggar’s change’, the Italian judge ruled that the baker father had done his best during the financially difficult times and that the pizza payments were sufficient in light of his financial status.
The government provides information about how support payments are calculated. Briefly, it says:
The child support formula is flexible enough to take into account many different family circumstances. It provides a balanced way of working out child support payments. Child support payments are assessed based on the combined incomes of the parents and the care arrangements of the child. This ensures that the costs of raising a child are shared by both parents.
The tables for working out the costs of children and the costs that the parents meet through care are based on research into what parents spend on children in Australia.
The costs of children table is updated annually according to the changes in the Child Support Guide’s Male Total Average Weekly Earnings (MTAWE) figures.
Child support payments and Family Tax Benefit (FTB) are closely linked. You may need to apply for a child support assessment in order to get more than the base rate of FTB Part A. The amount of your child support payment may affect how much FTB you receive. The more child support you get, the less FTB you may receive. Equally, the less child support you get, the more FTB you may receive.
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