Overseas parents owe almost $1 billion in child support

A total of $3.2 billion of child support is owing, with $909m owed by overseas parents.
FAIRFAX MEDIA

A total of $3.2 billion of child support is owing, with $909m owed by overseas parents.

This article was first published on Newsroom.co.nz and is republished with permission.

Almost $1 billion is owed in child support by people living overseas, with one person in debt for $4.3 million. What impact does this have on parents struggling to raise their children and how is the Government tackling the issue?

For nine years, Tania Symes has hoped for some financial support from the father of her youngest boy.

But during that time, not a single cent has arrived from her former partner after he packed up and moved to Australia.

Symes estimates that she has missed out on about $70,000 in child support payments, money that would have been life-changing when she was struggling to feed her family.

READ MORE: Child support is the bane of my existence

"We were living in Auckland at the time and we just couldn't afford to live. The last six months we were living up there we were living off food parcels and food grants, my weight went from 55kgs to 45kgs because I was earning the minimum wage.

"I messaged him when living in Auckland and said I was really struggling and his response was 'Go and see WINZ, they'll help you'."

Now living in Feilding with her parents, Symes has a better-paying job and is saving for a house deposit.

Receiving child support would still be a huge help in raising her son, she says, who is now 13.

Ad Feedback

She remains in sporadic contact with her former partner, knows where he lives and that he is working.

But despite providing those details to the Inland Revenue Department (IRD), along with his cell phone number, nothing has happened.

Symes is just one of thousands of parents struggling to raise their children without financial support from their former spouse.

There is $3.2 billion of child support owing, with $909m owed by overseas parents and $1.5b owed domestically. The remainder is made up of debt owed to non parent carers and parents who are now based in Australia, along with debt owed by employers who hadn't deducted from liable parents' wages.

In the 2016 financial year $474m in child support was collected, with $280m passed on to parents and $194m going into Government coffers to offset the sole parent support benefit.

For chasing debtors across the Tasman, the IRD has the benefit of a reciprocal agreement with the Australian Department of Human Services that can collect on its behalf.

Figures show that since the agreement began in 2001, $428m has been sent back to New Zealand while $729m is still being sought.

"Only a small portion of child support customers, that Inland Revenue considers are residing in Australia, are compliant," the IRD told Revenue Minister Judith Collins in a February briefing.

The IRD also uses private debt collectors to chase up some of their more problematic clients and has collected almost $1m since 2014, although it has spent a third of that on agency fees.

Figures released under the Official Information Act reveal that the biggest defaulters owe astronomical amounts in child support.

As at May 31, the 20 highest outstanding debts for liable parents living in Australia total $26m and range from $930,000 to $2.1m.

For parents living overseas, but not in Australia, that figure is even higher.

The 20 highest debts internationally total $55.5m, with one parent owing an eye-watering $4.3m.

Most of the money owed in child support is in penalties.

The longer a person avoids paying child support the more penalties they accrue, with compound interest continuing to inflate the sums.

For domestic defaulters, 79 percent of the money owed is in penalties while that figure is 90 percent for those living overseas.

Last year the Government announced it was relaxing its penalty rules and would consider wiping debts to try to encourage parents to pay what was originally owed in child support.

The law still needs fixing

In 2015 the formula for calculating child support payments was also tweaked.

It now takes into account the income of both parents, how often they care for their children and the cost of raising a child.

But it was criticised for some shortcomings, such as not considering dependent children from new partners in a relationship.

Rob St George believes the system remains grossly unfair to some parents.

As the founder of childsupportnz.com, a website he started for both receiving and paying parents, he says he constantly hears from people placed in unfair situations.

As a father paying child support himself, with a partner who was receiving child support from her former spouse, he had first-hand experience of both sides.

"For example, if her ex stops paying my family is disadvantaged because I'm still paying for my kids and because she lives with me, she's not entitled to Working For Families."

St George cites a lack of parental alienation laws in New Zealand, which means that when splits turn bitter one parent can poison their child against the other.

The way child support was calculated was also confusing, with little information on how IRD had reached their cost estimate for raising a child.

Some of those who were most affected were women working for the minimum wage while their ex-partners were on the benefit.

If there was a 50/50 shared care arrangement, the working parent would be paying their counterpart despite being unable to afford to do so.

"It's not this lady's fault that her ex is on the benefit but she's supposed to pay for it, she already pays tax, why does she also have to pay for her ex's life choices."

In its briefing to the Minister, the IRD said the recent changes to the Act had received mostly positive feedback.

But despite the recent reforms, child support debt continued "to be a challenge".

Newsroom wanted to speak to the IRD about how they were chasing up overseas debtors and criticisms of the child support scheme.

Senior media advisor Pete van Schaardenburg said that would not be possible and asked for questions to be written in an email, before responding that no comment could be made before deadline because "one of the managers required to sign off on it is on leave".

Judith Collins did respond to a request for comment and said while the IRD was required to charge penalties on outstanding child support they now had greater flexibility to write off penalties for customers who engaged with the department.

There were already measures in place to collect overseas child support payments and the IRD was regularly reviewing those methods.

Back in Feilding, Symes doesn't think the system is working and just wants someone to do something so she can better provide for her family.

"They just need to get their butt into gear, I want some money for my son."

This article was first published on Newsroom.co.nz and is republished with permission.

 - Newsroom

Ad Feedback
special offers
Auckland

Owha's new home video

Leopard seals are apex predators and can be aggressive, people are warned not to approach them.

One long-term resident leopard seal has scientists scratching their heads - are there more of them out there?

Peninsula Club knits for Kiwi kids

The knitting club in action.

"These ladies knit with skill and precision, but most of all, heart."

'I'm just the vessel'

Sir Graeme Dingle was knighted for his services to youth at Government House in Auckland.

Adventurer Graeme Dingle knighted for bettering thousands of young Kiwi lives.

Plea in people-smuggling case

The Supreme Court has yet to decide if it will hear Maythem Radhi's appeal.

Maythem Radhi has one last chance to avoid extradition, or improve its terms.

Wellington

Uni determined to demolish flats

The flats were built in the 1950s, and are a rare example of high-rise social housing built under a National government.

Vice-chancellor to challenge court ruling on Wellington's "architectural faux pas".

Cover too provocative?

Amazon has banned Kapiti author Shona Moller from advertising her book on its website because its imagery is ...

Hint of cleavage too much for web giant Amazon, as it refuses ad for Kiwi's book.

I own the sea, says poacher

Napier man Apirana Robinson was caught with 66 paua under the legal size limit. (File photo)

Paua poacher inadvertently walks straight toward a group of fishery officers

Arrests after police pursuit

Police said the chase lasted for up to half an hour in the Wairarapa countryside.

A fleeing driver in Wairarapa tried to avoid spikes, only to hit a pole.

Canterbury

Still heliski 'dancing' at 88 video

Christof, 88, and Britta Wieser, 78, are avid heli skiers who travel from from Austria to Methven for up to two months ...

Christof Wieser is nearly 89, but still jumps in a helicopter every time there's powder.

'Bizarre' criminal path video

Douglas Roake has been jailed for more than 13 years for six pub robberies around Canterbury and shooting two women at ...

How did a man with no criminal history become a "disgusting, cowardly" armed robber who shot two women?

Stink over weedkiller

A new organic weedkiller with a "more pleasing smell" has been rolled out after the last one caused a stink.

Christchurch council scrapped Roundup for an organic spray, but it got up people's noses.

Apology rejected

Canterbury District Health Board chairman Mark Solomon has rejected an apology from Treasury over its release of ...

Mark Solomon will not accept Treasury's belated apology to Canterbury health leaders.

Waikato

Calls to rein in sexist jibes

'It's just got to stop,' Councillor Angela O'Leary says of sexist comments and jokes which go too far.

Councillor calls on mayor to clamp down on boys' club atmosphere.

Two bodies found

James David Fleet, 25, (pictured) and his uncle Raymond Joseph Fleet, 51, were last seen by their families on August 7.

Two bodies found in Mamaku Forest are believed to be Raymond and James Fleet.

Gunman's ex wanted

Police are searching for Irene Scanlon.

Irene Scanlon, 43, is believed to be helping alleged Morrinsville gunman Rollie Heke.

See how the other half live

This Gordonton home is part of the Fine Homes Tour, where people purchase tickets to view 10 houses in the Hamilton area ...

Once again, 10 homes in the Hamilton area open their doors for charity.

Taranaki

The Fruity Gardener

A section of the packed greenhouse where Aden begins his plants.

From a ponderous thought to a blossoming business. Sonja Slinger meets edible gardener Aden Lowe.

Nasty letters were hers

Handwriting analysis played a key role in determining the role a New Plymouth woman had in writing a series of nasty ...

Handwriting expert fingers grudge-bearing woman who penned critical letters about her ex-employer.

Rollie Heke has Taranaki links

A police car was sprayed with bullets in Morrinsville after a shooting early Sunday morning.

"He has definitely got a couple of ex-partners down here."

From bombings to pancakes

22092016 SUPPLIED. Marcel's Pancakes' Marcel Naenen, left, Rafael Porto Carrero and Ingrid Vercammen.

A former freelance reporter tells of terror overseas and how he's come to the sweet life in NZ.

Manawatu

Mum: 'I thought she was gone' video

Jodeci Day, 6, was hit by ute on Highbury Ave and is recuperating in Palmerston North Hospital.

When Casey Bush saw her daughter lying motionless, she thought she was dead.

The slip that broke Tararua's back

Drone shot of Manawatu Gorge slip that closed State Highway 3 in April.

Whatever it is, the region's economy needs it quick, says Horizons' chairman.

How the email scandal began

Horowhenua District Councilor Ross Campbell, left, and mayor Michael Feyen had their emails blocked by former mayor ...

Former Horowhenua mayor releases email that led to messages being intercepted.

Crash delays traffic

One person suffered a minor back injury in the three-car crash on Fitzherbert Bridge.

A three-car crash on a busy Palmerston North bridge slowed traffic right down.

Nelson

Kindy teacher in Mongol top 10

Mongol Derby riders completing the race sharing sixth position. From left Marie Palzer, Rebecca Hewitt from Australia, ...

Marie Palzer has finished "the world's longest and toughest horse race" in sixth place.

Figures 'up in the air'

A new programme of work is en route for the Queen St upgrade project at Richmond.

The delayed upgrade of Queen St could result in a $500,000 overspend for TDC.

Mumps outbreak hits Nelson

Some people with mumps get a fever and headaches, and can spread the virus by coughing and sneezing. (File photo)

Two cases of mumps have been reported in Nelson after an outbreak in Auckland.

Hospice nurses heaven sent

Nelson Tasman Hospice nurse Brenda Watson, centre, visits Jim and Mollie Pascoe at their home in Stoke.

Jim Pascoe thought he'd be "dead by Christmas". Thanks to the Nelson-Tasman Hospice, he's still going strong.

Marlborough

Skilled staff shun Marlborough video

Simcox Construction general manager Antony Clark says this is the tightest labour market he has seen in Marlborough.

It's almost like people don't like the sun, amazing wine and [fairly] cheap houses.

Log hauler crash death

A Department of Conservation walking track at Blowhard Ridge.

The worker was operating a log hauler when it came off the road in Wairau Valley.

Your far flung fish and chips video

Witherlea Takeaways owner Sharyn Hiltz says frozen fish is just as good as fresh fish for your Friday night takeaway.

It's Friday night and that means one thing: takeaway time. But under the batter, where does your fish come from?

Mumps spread south

Some people with mumps get a fever and headaches, and can spread the virus by coughing and sneezing. (File photo)

Three young people in Marlborough have contracted the mumps.

South Canterbury

'Stolen' toilet found nearby video

17082017  News JOHN BISSET/STUFF. TeMoana Gorge. Toilet that was missing has been located in the river bed

E-loo-sive public toilet found - 100 metres from where it was supposed to be.

Clean air cash unspent

Homeowners can upgrade their woodburners with the Hot Swap loan scheme, and those who qualify for the Rates Rebate ...

Timaru election candidate says ECan must spend clean air fund cash.

Rape charge dismissed

Ashburton man Angus Mackenzie had a charge of rape dismissed at the Timaru District Court due to a lack of evidence to ...

Ashburton man on trial in Timaru for rape has charge against him dismissed.

'Hidden' homelessness up

Timaru Salvation Army corps officer Lieutenant Jacob Howan says more than 30 people with housing issues have presented ...

Not many people are officially homeless Timaru but some families have nowhere to call their own.

Southland

Award-winning dog

Dog handler John Taylor with his border collie Rusty, after winning the 2017 Dave Galloway Innovation Award for bio ...

The velvetleaf-detecting dog, Rusty, is making waves again, this time winning an award for his sniffing skills.

Minister responds

Associate Finance Minister Amy Adams has indicated she will meet with former Community Trust of Southland trustees who ...

"I will respond about arrangements for a meeting shortly." Minister Amy Adams.

More opposition to plans

Staff and governance from the organisations leasing 10 Deveron St, Graham Fletcher, Lois Conway, Candace Bangura and ...

Youth services provider Number 10 and the Invercargill Secondary Schools Network Trust do not want to relocate.

Big electorate challenge 

Hamish Walker at the National Party meeting  in Winton, where he was named the Clutha-Southland MP candidate to replace ...

New National candidate Hamish Walker takes on big electorate challenge.

Ad Feedback