tatjna (tatjna) wrote,

How to get a moral dilemma in one fell swoop (warning - long)

Remember the letter I sent to MP's in September about Child Support? I got a reply from Peter Dunne. It appears that he's not only read my letter but considered it. I must say that has impressed me.

Title: RE: Child Support correspondence

Dear (Me)

Thank you for your letter with regard to child support policy. I certainly agree that despite best intentions, the current system is flawed. For example, many liable parents seek to pay only the minimum amount possible (about $13) by manipulating the actual size of their income, so I applaud your commitment to your child in paying what anyone would consider to be a reasonable amount.

This leads me on to a number of general issues regarding child support that I would like to touch on briefly, before addressing your specific query. I think that we may need to move to a system whereby child support payments are based on a proportion of the reasonable costs of raising a child, rather than the stated income of the liable parent, to avoid the kind of suggestion that I outlined above. We also need to make allowances for the fact that many liable parents are supporting other children that may be the product of their new relationship.

There is also some dissatisfaction with the current practice of diverting the child support payment into the government's coffers where the custodial parent is on a benefit, to offset the cost of providing that benefit. We think that it would be more meaningful for both the liable parent and the child to have the child support money paid directly to the custodial parent in these situations, and have their benefit reduced accordingly.

This brings me to your own situation. As I read it, your child support payments are going directly to the custodial parent, which suggests to me that they are not on a benefit. My understanding of the law is that where a benefit is not involved, then both the custodial and non-custodial parent can come to whatever arrangement they like with regard to child support. For example, it is not unknown for the custodial parent to waive child support payments in return for ownership of the former family home. I am unsure as to what sort of relationship exists with the custodial parent, but I would suggest that you could offer to pay the same amount but divert some portion of that into a trust account (or something similar) for the child's future. You could offer to provide them with regular statements to show that you are diverting money in this way. I'm unsure as to what legal recourse you have if they refuse, but if you present it to the custodial parent as a way of securing the child's future rather than an implicit accusation that they are misspending your contribution then it would be difficult to refuse.

There is a school of thought within the government that enforcing child support payments will help to get non-custodial parents more involved in their child's life, but as your situation demonstrates, this is not necessarily the case. Instead, this comes down to the type of access agreement reached, and the more that we can move this towards a shared parenting model the better the outcome.

I'm not sure about the practicalities of making custodial parents accountable for the child support payments they receive, as there are many costs in running a household that are difficult to divide and separate without creating an unduly onerous compliance regime. However, if there are any concerns that a child is suffering from neglect then a non-custodial parent could always alert Child Youth and Families.

United Future is developing a policy on a long-term savings scheme, whereby accounts would be created in childhood that would not be able to be drawn-down until they are an adult. Our thinking initially was that this would be directed at helping to pay for tertiary study, but we are not ruling out other options, such as using the money to buy a first home. Parents, relatives, the government, and the child would all be able to contribute. Your situation has led me to think that a liable parent should be allowed to divert a portion of their child support payments into such an account, up to a maximum to ensure that some of their day to day living costs continue to be defrayed. I would be interested to know what you think of this idea.

As for suggestions as to how you could further promote your ideas, all I can recommend is that you continue to write letters to MPs (including United Future) and particularly the Ministers with responsibility in the relevant portfolios, such as the Minister for Social Development and Employment Steve Maharey, the Associate Minister of Justice (with responsibility for family law) David Benson-Pope, and the Revenue Minister David Cunliffe.

Your sincerely

Hon Peter Dunne
MP for Ohariu Belmont
Leader, United Future

Here is my response after a few days of thinking about it. I have yet to formulate this into a reply and I understand that some of this shouldn't be in a letter to a politician. Any suggestions gratefully accepted.

1. It seems sad to me that the system must be set up to catch the dishonest people, at the expense of the honest ones.

2. I quite like the idea of a system based around the reasonable cost of supporting a child, and allowances for the fact that many liable parents are also supporting children from new relationships. I would add to that the fact that many custodial parents have also formed new relationships, often to their financial benefit. I did some digging in the Child Support website, and discovered that there is a limit on how much you must pay. It works like this:

It starts with my gross income. I get a $12000 living allowance for being single. After that, they take an arbitrary 18% of my gross and give it to the custodial parent. This happens with my income up to $99000 a year, whereupon I reach a cap of what I am liable for. If did some maths, and found out that at this level, I'd be supplying $15660 to support my son, which is $3660 more than the child support people have decided is allowable to support myself. Something's wrong with that. $300 a week as my share of what it costs to support a kid? *gapes*

The only problem I see with a system based on costs rather than income is that there are genuine cases of liable parents who can't afford to pay this amount. Perhaps something figured out between both?

3. In the paragraph where he talks about my situation, his ignorance of the world comes to the fore. I wish it were so simple, but the reality is that often the custodial parent sees child support as a meal ticket, a means of retaining power over the liable parent, or a method of punishment. In my case, it's all three. I'm struggling to get my kid's father to pick up the phone to let me know when/if he's arriving for his Christmas visit, and I live daily with the fear that either he won't turn up or he'll be left at the airport because nobody let me know when the flight got in. I can't see him agreeing to some of the money he gets from me being diverted somewhere where only Tommy can get at it and he has no control. This is not a case of two parents with differences working together for the good of the child, it's a case of one parent using the child (and the child support payments) as a lever against the other. Think I'm kidding? I got told last winter that Tommy couldn't come to see me because I was behind in Child Support payments (which I wasn't, they had messed up their maths). Despite being able to prove that I wasn't behind, or the fact that access and child support are two separate issues, and there being a court order that spells out visitation rights, I had to go to mediation to sort it out. If that's not holding a kid for ransom without good reason, what is?

However, I am going to attempt his suggestion, and write to Tommy's father suggesting an alternative arrangement. I won't hold my breath for a result though. Hope springs eternal, right?

I don't understand why it's so onerous for people to keep bank statements, receipts or rent books. It's pretty normal for anyone running a business to keep all this stuff and prove expenses for a financial benefit of less tax, so why not custodial parents for the financial benefit of child support? At the moment, all the onerosity(?) is upon the liable parent, but that's ok, apparently.

And as for CYFS, well, I vote no confidence. They -have- investigated this situation. Apparently everything's fine. Except for the bit where my son talks to me about helping his Dad water his marijuana plants and asking me why I don't grow them, and telling me about how when the police came, him and his brother had to hide the stash while Dad stalled them at the door. Until they actually get caught, there's nothing I can do. Oh yeah, call CYFS, they'll help. Like they helped that little girl in Featherston, and all the kids that end up in my class.

Sorry Peter, but you just don't know shit about the real world. You only know how things -should- be, not how they are.

4. I completely agree with the last paragraph, and this is one of the suggestions I originally made.

Anyway, I was very pleased to see his response. Sadly, the best reply I have had to my original letter has come from the United First party, who are so strongly against the Civil Unions Bill. I want Kim and Thomas to be able to have a civil union. I want gay people to have legally recognised relationships. I also want politicians in Parliament who consider issues like Child Support as thoughtfully as Peter Dunne has for me. Any suggestions of who that might be?
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