Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Guest post: Government child support proposals would further impoverish single mums and their children

By Leonie Morris, Centre Manager, Auckland Women's Centre - from their Spring 2011 newsletter

The Government has signalled its intent to change Child Support calculations so that “receiving
parents” (usually mothers) lose up to two-thirds of their support payments. The current legislation,
which is already woefully inadequate, will be altered so that the threshold for reductions in Child Support payments for “paying parents” (usually fathers), due to them having shared care of their child, kicks in at a much lower rate. Currently fathers must have the child/ren 40% of the nights in a year to qualify for a
lowering in the amount of support they must pay. With the new law, that will drop to just 28%.

This means a father with two children who currently contributes $7,400 a year to their mother’s expenses, and has his children for an average of two nights a week, would only have to pay $2,600 a year – a reduction of 64%.

Whose best interests are served by this legislation? Not children’s!
There is a major problem with the legislation: it should have as its primary objective the best interests of the child. Yet while the Act references the child’s right to be maintained, the welfare and best interests of the child are notably and regrettably absent. This is a breach of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, to which New Zealand is a party.

The Government’s discussion paper identified the parts of the Act that they believe need changing.
Unfortunately, these changes are in the interest of fathers, not children or mothers. For instance, a major problem of the legislation is that the formula used to determine how much Child Support a father will pay automatically assumes that if the father has a new partner, that person is a dependent, and consequently the Child Support amount is reduced!

Most of the submissions to the discussion paper supported the proposed changes. It is likely that
these were made by fathers. Fathers have always been very vocal about Child Support, complaining
that they are expected to pay too much. By comparison, mothers are seldom heard on this topic, partly because they are too busy childrearing and struggling to make ends meet and partly because mothers are often reluctant to go on record saying anything that might be construed by their children, now or later, as a
criticism of their father.

The Government’s plan will make it even easier for fathers to avoid financially supporting their children
This change to how Child Support is calculated provides a financial incentive for fathers to increase the amount of nights they spend with their children to at least two per week. At first glance, this might seem like a great result. Yet when the incentive to do so is the avoidance of paying Child Support, is this a quality outcome for children? (As at 30 June 2011, the Child Support debt, excluding penalties, is $605 million).

The Government’s discussion paper fails to address this issue. However, New Zealand research on this topic highlights that:
• The two most important things for children’s psychological wellbeing after parents separate are: 1) to maintain and strengthen their relationship with their mother; and 2) to minimise exposure to inter-parental conflict.
• The studies do not consistently demonstrate that a high level of contact with the father is always in the best interests of children.
• The benefit of contact with fathers after separation depends on the style and quality of the father’s  parenting, as opposed to the amount of contact.
• The one thing that has been shown to be associated unquestionably with good outcomes for children is the father paying Child Support.
• With very young children, particular care is needed to preserve their relationship with the mother because of their need to have at least one secure attachment (New Zealand Universities Law Review, Vol 24, No 1, June, 2010, Julia Tolmie, Vivienne Elizabeth and Nicola Gavey).

The Government announced in August that the legislation will be passed before the election.  Hopefully this won’t happen, because it would not allow enough time for the legislation to go to a Parliamentary Select Committee to receive and discuss submissions from the public - an essential step in our democratic process.


Trouble said...

Thank you, it's about time someone noticed the change in percentage means a really common situation like Friday and Saturday nights at the non-custodial parent's would have a big impact on child support. I can see more custodial parents resisting that sort of arrangement if it stuffs up their budgeting - where the kids spend the night doesn't always correlate to who spends the money.

Natalie said...

If women are interested in working with the Auckland Women's Centre to oppose these changes please contact Leonie at the Centre akcentre@womenz.org.nz