Laws: Child support law is a joke

Last updated 05:00 03/03/2013
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Sunday Star-Times columnist Michael Laws: The current Child Support Act is criminalising good fathers.

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OPINION: Every year, New Zealand is ritually informed that we are a nation of derelict dads. That a disproportionate number of the male gender are shirking their collective responsibility to their offspring, by reneaguing on their child support obligations.

The latest figures released by the IRD quantify that neglect. Over $2.7 billion is owed and 20 per cent of the liable parents are swanning it over in Australia. $2,700 million - dear Lord, it's almost the entire GDP of the South Pacific.

Until one delves beyond the headlines and realises that over two-thirds of this debt is actually IRD penalty payment. And that the IRD has limited resources to recover this sum or even the original - the financial obligations growing with every year.

This is not the IRD's fault. The real problem is the child support policy that they administer and its manifest unfairness. In specific, its appalling inability to understand that every separation, every split family, every familial dynamic - is different. And that applying one rule to all is an exercise in futility.

The dynamic of the Family Court and family law has also fundamentally altered since the passage of the Child Support Act in 1991. Indeed our entire society has changed since then - including an acceptance that marriages, partnerships and relationships aren't forever.

Even if the kids are.

Indeed couples seem to regard having a child as an entrée to a permanent settled relationship rather than its purpose. The welfare state may have systematically encouraged the feckless to breed - but it has also sent the rest of us a message too.

The child is a cash cow but only if you are in possession.

And that's where the Care of Children Act has made such a difference. It presumes something that the Child Support Act doesn't. That both mum and dad would like to have care of their children - and that neither is necessarily better. The move towards fifty-fifty or shared care of children - after separation - is the new imperative.

Yes, but that presents a huge problem. Instead of mum and dad taking shared financial responsibility too, the Child Support Act blunders in and levies both parents. The stupidity is that they essentially pay each other. And that one parent often ends up subsidising the lifestyle and bad choices of the other.

To make matters worse, the act also financially disincentives working parents from any upward aspiration. The obligations that a $40,000 a year parent has - compared to an $80,000 a year parent - are considerably less. Indeed the current law is like adding a 25 per cent surcharge to all gross income over $40,000. In many cases, more.

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Unsurprisingly perhaps, the law has acted as another reason why overseas destination has become so attractive.

The fact that one's child support payments are also completely unrelated to any reciprocal visitation or custody rights is another monstrous issue. The law demands separation of the two issues but that is both unfair and inhuman. Being levied not to see your children, is an exercise in cruelty.

Supposedly the government is reviewing the archaic Child Support Act but that is an exercise that has been repeatedly delayed.

In the meantime, inequities abound and avoidance has reached epidemic levels.

mlaws@radiolive.co.nz

- © Fairfax NZ News

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