This site uses cookies to improve your experience and to provide services and advertising. By continuing to browse, you agree to the use of cookies described in our Cookies Policy. You may change your settings at any time but this may impact on the functionality of the site. To learn more see our Cookies Policy.
OK
#Open journalism No news is bad news

Your contributions will help us continue to deliver the stories that are important to you

Support The Journal
Dublin: 6 °C Saturday 6 June, 2020
Advertisement

Maintenance defaulters: 'We have no legal remedies for parents who refuse to pay'

If we are serious about tackling child poverty in Ireland, let’s start the debate around an enforced child maintenance system, writes Louise Bayliss.

Louise Bayliss Spokesperson and founding member, SPARK

LAST MONTH, THE Joint Oireachtas Committee on Social Protection issued a groundbreaking report on the welfare of lone parents.

The debate around lone parents in Ireland has traditionally been a dualistic argument around work or welfare. This report, arguably for the first time, introduces the third strand into the debate – the role of the absent parent in the welfare of their child.

We have a long history in Ireland of absolving absent fathers from responsibility (think mother and baby homes) and this tradition has continued, as we still have no statutory child maintenance body.

Facing a combative court system 

Parents seeking maintenance must go to court and face a combative court system. If a court order is ignored, it is up to the parent to chase it through the courts system.

In reality, it can be difficult to ensure compliance. The only guaranteed option is an attachment of earnings, however, this can easily be circumvented if the non-custodial parent moves jobs or fails to tell the other parent, the name of their employer. Unlike property tax, revenue can’t deduct the payment at source.

In 2015, only one parent was jailed for not paying child maintenance, yet in the same period almost 10,000 people were jailed for not paying a court fine. Jail shouldn’t be the option for maintenance defaulters, but currently, we have no legal remedies for parents who refuse to pay.

If there is a court order in place, money is deducted from any social welfare payment due, whether it is paid or not, and this has meant parents are reluctant to pursue maintenance through the courts and risk losing money.

Increase in poverty rate for lone parent families 

In 2012, Joan Burton introduced reforms to lone parent payments which cut the income of working lone parents and those in education and training.

The EU SILC (Survey on Income and Living Conditions) reports showed that since her reforms were introduced there has been a 50% increase in the consistent poverty rate for lone parent families, while concurrently there was a small reduction in the rate for the general population.

Children in lone parent families are now over three times more likely to live in poverty than children in two parent families and I believe a major reason for this is that one parent can legally “walk away”.

The Committee undertook a comprehensive analysis of the reforms introduced by Minister Joan Burton in Budget 2012 and included oral testimony from officials from the Department of Social Protection and representatives of various organisations such as St Vincent De Paul, Barnardos, Focus Ireland, One Family and SPARK.

#Open journalism No news is bad news Support The Journal

Your contributions will help us continue to deliver the stories that are important to you

Support us now

Only a third of families now receive maintenance 

As a result of changes made by Burton, the Department of Social Protection now writes to the non-custodial parent once the youngest child in a family turns 7 and informs them, they are no longer obliged to pay child maintenance, unless it is court ordered. This has resulted in a 28% drop of families receiving maintenance and according to the Department of Social Protection only a third of families now receive maintenance.

In March of this year, the UN CEDAW committee called on Ireland to consider setting up a statutory maintenance system. In this report, the Oireachtas Committee has now also called for a statutory child maintenance system and a review on how child maintenance is assessed by the Department of Social Protection. It is essential that Minister Regina Doherty considers the important findings in this report and acts on its recommendations.

Taking child maintenance out of contentious litigation can only help heal separated families. It can help lift children out of poverty and reduce the reliance of lone parent families on social welfare. International research has shown that when maintenance is being paid, there is a greater likelihood of a meaningful relationship between the child and the non-custodial parent.

If we are serious about tackling child poverty in Ireland, let’s start the debate around an enforced child maintenance system.

Louise Bayliss is a spokesperson for SPARK (Single Parents Acting for the Rights of Kids),  and a graduate in Equality Studies from UCD.

Opinion: ‘I’ve never been whistled at while walking along a Dublin street’>

‘From Puck Fair to the Cork Jazz, our festivals are dependent on the drinks industry’>

download

  • Share on Facebook
  • Email this article
  •  

About the author:

Louise Bayliss  / Spokesperson and founding member, SPARK

Read next:

COMMENTS (95)