Nick Wikeley - Child Support: Carrots and Sticks

06 OCT 2008

Nick Wikeley, Professor of Law, School of Law, University of Southampton.

The holy grail of any child support system is the search for a culture of compliance. In an ideal world, parents with care (PWCs) will seek to ensure that their children receive appropriate support from their ex-partners, and non-resident parents (NRPs) will regard it as a badge of honour to meet their child maintenance obligations. The scheme established by the Child Support Act 1991 failed lamentably on both counts - there was no incentive for PWCs, especially those in receipt of income support, to co-operate with the Child Support Agency (CSA), while NRPs who failed to comply with maintenance assessments felt no shame and (very often) faced no sanctions.

In the October issue of Family Law I explained the Government's thinking behind the creation of the Child Maintenance and Enforcement Commission (CMEC) to replace the CSA and looked forward to the Mark 3 child support formula which is expected to come into force in 2010. This article examines the carrots and sticks in the Child Maintenance and Other Payments Act 2008 (CMOPA 2008) and associated reforms which are intended to encourage a culture of compliance. The main carrot is the increased maintenance disregard for PWCs who are on means-tested benefits. The sticks are a whole new range of weapons which have been added to the new Commission's collection and enforcement armoury. At the time of writing these latter measures have yet to be brought into force.

For the full article, see November [2008] Family Law journal.

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