Men avoiding child maintanence payments

// 11 May 2009

The Guardian reports that more than 50,000 men owe at least £30,000 each in maintenance for children they had with former partners. In total, the Child Support Agency, charged with collecting this money, is short by a staggering £3.8 billion:

The agency brought in private debt collectors to try to enforce some of the outstanding arrears. But they have succeeded in getting payment of only 6% of the overdue money they were asked to pursue.

[…]

The issue of unpaid child support has been given fresh focus by last week’s figures suggesting the government will almost certainly miss its goal of halving child poverty by 2010. According to Gingerbread [a charity for one parent families], 100,000 children would be lifted out of poverty if maintenance arrears were cleared.

Some women are also avoiding payments, but it appears that the vast majority of this debt has been created by men avoiding their responsibilities. And we’re lead to believe that single mums are the root of all evil.

Comments From You

Woodruff // Posted 11 May 2009 at 4:33 pm

I agree this is bad news, but where the hell in the article are we led to believe single mums are the root of all evil?

Laura // Posted 11 May 2009 at 4:46 pm

I meant that’s the general narrative we get fed about single parent families, that single mums are to blame for everything. The media rarely addresses the problem of irresponsible and negligent fathers.

JenniferRuth // Posted 11 May 2009 at 4:46 pm

@Woodruff

I think Laura means that there is a common media trope that single mothers are the cause of many ills, not that it specifically says so in that particular article.

liz // Posted 11 May 2009 at 5:26 pm

Unless of course, they happen to be men of colour with reference to David Cameron’s remarks last year about black men taking responsibility for their children.

Charlotte // Posted 11 May 2009 at 8:44 pm

It’s hardly surprising really to read this statistic from where I am. Not once is 15 years did my father pay any child maintenance to my mother for my 2 siblings and I – it’s not like we had a lot of money ourselves and him none! CSA never did anything, ever. I wonder if anything will change? Mmm…

Rose // Posted 11 May 2009 at 8:57 pm

I think that one thing that needs to be born in mind is the failings of the system itself, I know my father was required to pay over a hundred percent of his actual income – there are alot of disputes about how much a father can actually be expected to pay.

That said, I also know a pregnant women whos just had her face broken by a guy who doesn’t want to pay for his own.

Lots of fathers do uttery fail their duty of care towards their partners and children, but I really don’t think that the situation is helped by a family law system that sets male against female, gives them assumed roles, and gets them to battle for money.

james // Posted 11 May 2009 at 9:25 pm

Laura, do you think there could be other reasons for the high debt figure, other than men avoiding their responsibilities? Perhaps there could be some problem with CSA administration or support determination policy?

And let’s be honest; with large historic arrears they’re not avoiding child maintanence payments, because no child exists. They’re avoiding giving the mother a cash windfall. Obviously these guys should be punished, and at least not benefit, for not paying child support. But there’s no reason the mother should get money that should have been spent on the child, but wasn’t.

Anna // Posted 11 May 2009 at 10:10 pm

james: why not? The mothers had to fork cash out of their own pocket when the fathers shirked their responsibilities, so shouldn’t they be renumerated in some way?

If not, just give the money to the child/adult. Done.

Shea // Posted 11 May 2009 at 10:16 pm

@ james – hardly. They are depriving their child of resourcesk and financial assistance that is owed to them. As for “giving the mother a cash windfall” – they aren’t. Even men/women who do pay child support don’t pay anything like enough to cover the cost of supporting a child- their food, bills, heating, gas, mortgage or rent. Not to mention the unpaid and unrecognised labour of looking after these children.

The poorest people in our society are single mothers. Don’t forget that.

Victoria // Posted 11 May 2009 at 10:20 pm

“But there’s no reason the mother should get money that should have been spent on the child, but wasn’t.”

Apart from the blindingly obvious reason that she will have spent additional money on raising that child, money which she could otherwise have saved or spent on herself, as would have been her right to do. She’s owed that money and she damn well deserves it. I realise the belief that self-impoverishment is an essential part of motherhood is deeply attractive to a lot of men, for obvious reasons, but thankfully, most mothers themselves don’t fall for it for a second.

Emily // Posted 12 May 2009 at 10:21 am

A friend of mine had to take her ex-partner to court to get him to pay any maintenance at all for their little son. The reasons he gave the court why he shouldn’t have to pay maintenance were:

– he had a mortgage (she couldn’t have dreamed of even getting a mortgage)

– he was saving up for a hi-fi (!)

– he had a gastrointestinal complaint which was helped by smoking, so he had to fork out for cigarettes on a daily basis.

I think (as does friend) that he should have been prosecuted for wasting the court’s time with such piss-taking. He was finally ordered to pay a derisory monthly amount which doesn’t come close to covering basic childcare expenses. This sounds like an extreme case, but it isn’t. My friend felt she was treated like a greedy, grasping troublemaker.

Anna // Posted 12 May 2009 at 10:45 am

Aye – my own useless, terrible father dragged my mother through the courts to get access (didn’t show up to court.. or the access he was granted) and has never paid a penny of maintenance in his life.. Mostly because he’s on benefits (and makes his money through drug dealing and benefit fraud). I met him when I was eighteen.. he seemed to think that as he *chose* not to have access when I was a child, he shouldn’t have to pay maintenence, because ‘why should anyone have to pay for something they don’t have?’

He’s also our local area’s most prominent member of F4J. Go figure.

Evie Wallace // Posted 12 May 2009 at 11:18 am

My own father thought that an occasional birthday card and a large present every few years was all that he needed to do to have a relationship with me. He gave my mother as little as possible and had this ‘Why does she need new shoes? She had a pair two years ago’ attitude and yet he always had money to take a succession of girlfriends on holidays.

I can’t forgive him for this behaviour. Even after mum retrained as a solicitor, and struggled like mad to provide my brother and I with an education. It also formed the basis of my attitude to feminism: Earn your own money and you don’t have to put up with shit from any man. Sorry if that sounds negative and I’m happily living with a man now, but my dad is now an old man, living on his own (the girlfriends of course are nowhere to be seen) and he wants to ‘get to know his little girl’. It’s too late. A father who makes no effort to be a father and support his children pays the price of them being strangers to him when they are adults.

Anne Onne // Posted 12 May 2009 at 11:51 am

They’re avoiding giving the mother a cash windfall. Obviously these guys should be punished, and at least not benefit, for not paying child support.

That’s the thing, though. Whilst it’s seen as understandable, whilst many people still have sympathy for the poor father who doesn’t want anything to do with his kids, so therefore shouldn’t be made to contribute to keeping said kids alive (because of course, all the other responsibilities in life we only deal with if we want to!!!), these people will benefit. They benefit because people tolerate ‘I didn’t want that child/ don’t want that child, and don’t want any contact’ as an excuse for not taking responsibility for the child they fathered. Because many people get away with it.

But there’s no reason the mother should get money that should have been spent on the child, but wasn’t. Unless you’re arguing that the mother would literally spend less than the money given for child support, there’s no way this money wouldn’t be spent on the kid. Kids cost money, not a small amount of it. They need to be clothed, fed, housed, looked after, educated. Some ‘luxuries’ like toys or books wouldn’t go amiss, either.

It doesn’t matter ‘where’ the particular money the mother spent on the kid comes from in that it matters how much she spends. If, say, she got £5 for child support per month, but spent £15* that month, then she has spent the child support money and more of her own. It doesn’t matter whether she spend £5 on a top, it doesn’t mean the child support went towards that, since she’s spent much more than the child support on the kid. If she were spending £2 on the kid, there may be some kind of point, but the chances of someone raising a child on less than child support, given all that kids require is pretty slim.

A woman receiving child support doesn’t mean she shouldn’t be allowed to buy ‘luxuries’ for herself or her child, if she can afford them. She owns the rest of her money, remember! Nobody questions the rights of a father who already pays child support to buy whatever he wants. We have to get over this idea that if we contribute financially to a woman, we own her and can tell her what to do with all her money.

So this argument that women are literally spending that exact money given, as if it’s given as a cheque that can only be cashed for one purpose miss the point. It’s as if they expect that in order to quality for child support a woman has to have absolutely no money, and only spend all their money on their child. Otherwise they’re a greedy bitch frivolously wasting other people’s money for luxuries. As if they don’t feed or clothe their kids, or do all the caring for them. As if child support is such a huge amount of money that there is lots left over for her to live the life of luxury!

*Figures obviously arbitrary.

sianmarie // Posted 12 May 2009 at 12:29 pm

thank you for posting this, it is such an important issue. the focus HAS to be put on the men who don’t pay child maintenance, and less on the single mothers who are portrayed as the “root of all evil” by a variety of press outlets. the amount of money owed mothers is overwhelming, a terrfifying figure, and so often this is simply ignored. by not paying towards their children, fathers cna be putting single mothers in a cycle of poverty. james – money paid as child support is not a cash windfall, it is the money that is needed to support a child. it takes two to make a baby and fathers who don’t pay towards child support and don’t maintain contact with their child have to start taking that responsibility seriously, or it is their child, not their ex, who suffers

Denise // Posted 12 May 2009 at 12:50 pm

“Earn your own money and you don’t have to put up with shit from any man”.

That doesn’t sound negative, Evie, it’s damn positive.

Why should you forgive your father for all those years of such selfish behaviour towards you? It must have been terrible for you and your brother and your Mum. He’s lucky if you speak to him at all now. It takes more than biology to make a parent.

Rose // Posted 12 May 2009 at 5:33 pm

I think that the windfall issue is one that needs to be considered.

My mother lied about the amount already paied by my father at the start, (which included a six figure sum), and had handouts from family all the way – my mother spent the ‘spare’ money while we were out, or on taking her boyfriends on holidays, for weeks or even months at a time leaving us kids to look after ourselves.

I think its fair to say that I was living in poverty, wearing hand-me-downs from two older brothers, and rationing out food money. I ran away in my late teens.

Six months ago, my father was forced to give her £16,000, and for what? Pocket money? I really don’t think she deserves any ‘reward’ or luxury. She didn’t spend her time, money, or care on her children, she actually just made money out of the situation.

I am in no way saying that this is normal, but I do think it serves to remind that simplifying the situation down to men – greedy, selflish, women- nurturing, honest, isn’t going to help, and just makes the issue of raising children a male.vs.female battle.

I think the subject needs to be seen as two subjects, child neglect (even if its financial, and from a distance), and assumed gender roles. (If more men were given custody, maybe more women would be dodging payments).

Evie // Posted 12 May 2009 at 7:49 pm

Denise, thank you for your sympathetic words. I have to say, my mum always said that the best revenge is living well and she’s now comfortable, after a hard won career. But I live with the shadow that freedom and choice are inextricably linked with financial independence. Mum was dependent on my father financially for a while and he abused this disgracefully. It makes me wary of trusting men and especially of having children because I never want to be in that position.

What really bemuses me is that aside from a hardcore of men who really don’t give a shit what their children think of them – most men do want their children to love them, they really do. So how can they reconcile keeping the mother of their children in poverty, with wanting a relationship with their children? Are they so deluded?

james // Posted 12 May 2009 at 8:10 pm

Anne/Shea/Sianmarie, you’ve misunderstood me and I’m sorry for not being clearer earlier. CS debt isn’t written off. So with cases where there are large historic arrears the children grow up, so they’re adults and supporting themselves but the debt persists. Settling it takes the form of a no strings cash payment from the father to the mother. So the ‘but children are in poverty’ argument doesn’t work; there aren’t any children any more and when the debt is settled the money doesn’t go anywhere near them.

Anne Onne // Posted 12 May 2009 at 11:22 pm

@James: I didn’t know that was the case. Personally, had I already brought the kids up, I’d want nothing more from someone who had never contributed to my children’s lives, if I could help it. (Which many women can’t, poverty being what it is). But, at the same time, I wouldn’t judge a woman who had spent 18 years raising, paying for, clothing, cleaning,etc a man’s kids without any financial contribution from him, decides that she would like to be renumerated for the time and effort and money spent raising his kids. Society doesn’t value this work because it is seen as ‘women’s work’, but given that society awards importance to a job by awarding money, I don’t see why women shouldn’t be paid for the time and money they have spent over the years.

The problem is, the way our judicial system ‘compensates’ people is making one person pay money to another. That’s how our society rewards people damages. Whilst I don’t personally like the system, I can see the mother being paid after the fact as kind of like damages awarded her because the ex-partner didn’t pay any money when they were supposed to, and she had to pay more of her own money than should have been necessary to raise the child. I don’t think this is ideal, but it is not different to many civil or small claims in which people daily claim money from other people because of various things. I don’t think the answer to problems should always be founded in hard cash, but in order to change this, we’d have to change how we see compensation as a whole. I have no legal knowledge, but ethically I don’t see a mother being recompensed even after the fact much different from neighbours being asked to pay for damage to a mutual wall, or customers getting compensation from a company for a service not carried out properly, since she was owed the money and never given it.

I don’t agree that deterrents always work, but I would say maybe it’s meant to deter men from thinking that if they stop paying for a certain amount of time, they won’t have to pay up because the child will be grown.

Obviously, the system could still be open to abuse, as any system is (Rose’s example), which means it needs to be carefully calibrated. I don’t think the MEN vs. WOMEN way this is always framed helps at all, but it’s society’s fault as much as the courts. Society always frames relationships in terms of who can get the most money from whom, then wonders why divorces sometimes go haywire.

I don’t see an easy option, but I don’t see a good reason for a man to not pay child support, even after the child has grown up. What would I think a parent (in this case, a man) would really be saying if he refused to pay? That they don’t value the time and effort spent over those years by their ex raising their kid/s. That they do not care that raising kids requires money, and don’t give a damn that their ex partner shouldered the financial burden alone when it was hardest, without their help. That they thought they could get away without paying anything, and that they are trying to weasel their way out of something they legally owe another person. They may not care about the kids at all, or may be taking it out on the ex partner, but the kids still need feeding and caring for, and this service deserves recognition. Short of trying to punish their ex and basically say through actions that they don’t value child raising at all, I don’t really see a decent rationale behind not paying. If there are access issues (and he can legally see the kids, as in is not an abusive danger to them or the mother), if he’s being denied access he can win it through the courts. Even parents which do not have custody have the right to access. Of course, I suspect the biggest problem is with parents who want nothing to do with their kids. Well, they can’t be forced to see them, but they CAN be forced to pay towards keeping them alive.

I’d ideally like a different system (not that I could design a perfect or even better one), but under the one we have, it makes no sense to NOT compensate someone who has been denied money legally owed to them. We wouldn’t let anyone else get away with not paying something (bankruptcy being an exception) they owed someone else, and absentee fathers/mothers should be no exception.

I’m wondering why it can’t be given to the kid, or split between them and the carer parent, but I guess it is awarded more like compensation.

Jennifer Drew // Posted 13 May 2009 at 12:04 am

The issue is not about ‘historic debt’ but the fact a large number of fathers are deliberately avoiding their responsibilities towards the mothers’ children.

It is all very well saying the mother does not deserve to be paid this debt once the children have become adults but that does not address the issue of men deliberately refusing to take responsibility for fathering children and then deciding ‘no I’m not going to pay for having fathered a child – let the mother raise the child/children because retaining my money is more important than ensuring a child does not suffer because of my failure to meet my commitments.’

Should we therefore say to fathers who refuse to pay child support ‘its okay now because the mothers’ children are now adults and you needn’t pay the money you should have paid when the mother and children were struggling to make ends meet.’ Because if we are, then this makes it even more vital abberant fathers avoid paying child support because they know after a certain number of years have lapsed they will not be asked to pay the money they should have paid in the first place. Sounds an ideal method of encouraging fathers to not meet their parental responsibilities but at the same time expect to have access to the mother’s children as and when they see fit. Parenting without responsibility in other words.

Society constantly lambasts single mothers for daring to raise children without the presence of that all so necessary ‘male role model’ yet when it comes to abberant fathers not meeting their responsibilities and commitments it is not considered as important as ensuring mothers’ children remain in contact with fathers who want access to the children but do not want to be held accountable for refusing to take responsibility for the mother’s children’s welfare.

But then patriarchy was never logical since it is designed to promote male needs not female ones.

Shea // Posted 13 May 2009 at 12:19 am

@james – you have an odd view of the parent/child relationship. I don’t think my parents have ceased to help me out when I have needed it financially and I am all grown up and self supporting. I am very fortunate in that respect. But I suspect alot of parents are similar in this regard. The parent/child bond is a life long one.

So your idea that the mother would just keep the money and not give any to the child is a fallacious one. But even if she did- as others have pointed out, this is money she should have had and would have spent back in the days when the child was young. She spent her own money (not to mention, time and effort on her child,) and this money represent possible savings or a pension for her.

There is a moral argument to make. The father has been unjustly enriched, by having another person bring up his child at no cost to himself. He has materially damaged both his child’s life chances and opportunities by not contributing, but also his ex-partners by not fulfilling his obligation to co-provide. How can you possibly imagine that this is equitable or fair?

Lets put it another way, if you and I take on obligation to mutually support and contribute to a project (not even a child) and you renegade on that promise, after I have spent time and money to bring that project about and in doing so you leave me out of pocket; The law would have no problem recognising that I would have a case against you to recover the money. Whether that was two months or sixteen years down the line. A debt is a debt- when it can be paid it should, regardless of what the recovering party will then choose to spend the money on.

(I don’t equate a child with a project obviously, I was just being illustrative).

As Evie’s excellent points show- you reap what you sow. When these men (and women) who play no part in their children’s lives, and/or won’t give them a penny, are old, lonely and need looking after, they really going to regret screwing up so badly with their children.

As I said the parent/child bond cuts two ways and I know that should my parents ever need help (of any sort) they will receive it without hesitation as they have always done so for me.

“A father who makes no effort to be a father and support his children pays the price of them being strangers to him when they are adults.”

The truest words written.

Shea // Posted 13 May 2009 at 12:30 am

@ Rose- you raise an interesting point that is never considered. Why aren’t more men seeking full time custody of their children? I know only two cases where the father has sought joint custody and meant it (two weeks a month). In this case there is no payment of child support, because the burden of providing for a child is shared equally (and not just a financial one). In fairness they are both excellent dads and want to be active and involved in their children’s lives.

I suspect that actually alot of fathers (and mothers ) have no interest in taking full custody or even a truly shared joint custody, because they know the colossal amount of work involved in raising a child. They would rather do anything and everything to shirk having to pay child support, (including repeatedly changing jobs to avoid detection, as someone I once worked with did) content in the knowledge that it will take the mother years to reclaim the money owed.

They also to seem to think showing up once in a blue moon to take their kid to Alton Towers for the day constitutes “parenting”. They are pitiful excuses for fathers/mothers and frankly have no right to use that title.

milly // Posted 13 May 2009 at 11:15 am

Just out of curiosity… how do you feel about this scenario:

If a father is in full time education (i.e. over 12 hours) all financial obligations are removed, regardless of their income. This is CSA policy.

Rose // Posted 13 May 2009 at 12:19 pm

@milly

I would say the father needs ‘means testing’. If the father can’t pay without damaging his education, then the government can cover it for him – possibly just adding it onto his student loan.

The problem seems more than short term finanical though, as it sounds like the mother would be out of education as a result – and that can’t be compensated.

Clare // Posted 14 May 2009 at 10:11 am

Is there any way that some/all of this money could be taken along with other tax payments and the government makes separate payments to the family instead, possibly combined with making other benefits or concessions available? We already do this for the repayment of student loans. This way the family could get the money and support it needs without having to deal with courts and the individuals themselves.

Sarah Side // Posted 27 May 2009 at 1:10 pm

With regards to fathers in full time education….the father of my little baby boy is in full time education. He already has a Bachelers degree, so could easily get a job any time if he wanted to. I offered him the option to pay me NOTHING for 5 years! & then in 5 years time, the amount he pays would be slightly higher to incorporate his not paying a penny for the first 5 years. He’s still refusing to pay! He hasn’t even met his son…I know I’ll just give up one day…but it’s unbelievably unfair…it’s hard enough being a single mum without having financial difficulties as well.

JEWEL // Posted 21 June 2009 at 6:49 pm

I have a 3 yr old son, that is well and healhty, but he has a serious skin conduction on his legs, now his Dad has never helped with any thing. So i applied for child maintenance, because he had a job, and i also work full time, with help from my mother, with in a week of him finding out the i had applied for child support, he quit has job, so that i would not get a penny. I no that he is working and is geting cash in hand, he teaches private music classes, and he also plays music with a band. What can i do to get some help for my child???

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