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  • Child Support Shakeup (Part 3 of 3)
  • By Helen Dalley
  • Sunday program - Channel 9
  • 12/06/2005 Make a Comment (1)
  • Contributed by: admin ( 47 articles in 2005 )
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MARIA: He says he is incapable of paying child support at present.

HELEN DALLEY: Because he is only earning $3 a week?

MARIA: Yes.

HELEN DALLEY: Is that what you believe to be the case?

MARIA: I don't have access to his papers, but I don't believe that is the case.

HELEN DALLEY: Why not?

MARIA: I just don't believe anyone can survive on that amount.

HELEN DALLEY: He's not getting any welfare benefits?

MARIA: Not that I know of.

HELEN DALLEY: And he's in a business?

MARIA: Yes, I believe he is, yes, yes.

KATHLEEN SWINBOURNE: In reality 40% of payers pay $5 a week or less. These are people who are declaring very, very low incomes yet they're not on income support, they're not staying at home to care for another child while they have a spouse in the work force, they're not at home with parents being looked after, they apparently have no income to support themselves. It's indicating to us that these people are writing off their income, that they actually have a lot more than they're declaring and the result of this is that their children are missing out.

MICHAEL SPIVAK, CHILD SUPPORT SOLICITOR, ILLAWARRA LEGAL CENTRE: In our experience, fathers, not only do they quit work, and their paying jobs are over the table to minimise their child support liabilities. They also hide assets that may be subject to the child support agency's ability to to seize those assets.

MARIA: We are living hand to mouth at the moment. There is no excess whatsoever. We run out of money generally on Tuesday and we wait for Thursday to come along. NARRATOR: Maria says the best thing the task force could do for families like hers is to allow the CSA to get tougher on the paying parents' hidden income.

MARIA: They need to be able to look behind those curtains of business structures, assume that assets held by businesses, in small business particularly, have to be assumed to be held by the directors of those businesses because it doesn't cost very much money to set a business up and then a business can hold land titles and that can sequester a lot of asset and information away.

HELEN DALLEY: And hide them?

MARIA: And hide them, yeah.

KATRINA: I believe he was running his own business and working cash in hand, The Child Support Agency attempted to find out what his business was, but it appeared that he was running it unregistered.

HELEN DALLEY: So how do you know he was running a business?

KATRINA: Because he was running it prior to us splitting and it's the only way he would have been able to make money.

HELEN DALLEY: So you believe he was earning money and hiding it from the Child Support Agency?

KATRINA: Yes, most definitely.

NARRATOR: The CSA can garnish an employee's income and intercept a tax return, but has difficulty pursuing the self-employed. Katrina says the CSA has tried to chase her ex for what he owes.

KATRINA: They've tried phoning him, he hangs up on them. They have tried sending letters and there's no response.

HELEN DALLEY: Why don't they litigate?

KATRINA: They've tried contacting him - that's all they can do, they say.

NARRATOR: But the flip side is a paying dad like Graham says he's hounded by the CSA now that he is trying to start up a small cleaning business.

GRAHAM: They look at me now with an ABN that I am a tycoon. Because I've got an ABN, I am a business owner with a large income. I am a first-time business owner who hasn't got a clue what he is doing. The words that were told to me was that you have an ABN so you have a business - where is the money?

MICHAEL SPIVAK: I sympathise with fathers groups to the extent that they say the Child Support Agency system is not working. I think payees have the same time. Where there's a difference is looking at what child support is being paid. Payees are concerned about enforcement.

NARRATOR: In low-income Illawarra region, solicitor Michael Spivak sees up close the problems his clients have fighting to collect their child support.

MICHAEL SPIVAK: If you don't enforce and you don't enforce seriously and be prepared to take those matters to court, and to even go so far as to put payer parents who don't pay and refuse to obey court orders in jail, if you don't do that, then the system breaks down. There's no trust in the system on either side so payers feel, you know, more than comfortable with not paying the assessment if they know nothing's going to happen to them.

NARRATOR: Last financial year, thousands of Australian children were owed a staggering $848 million in child support, according to the agency's own figures.

KATHLEEN SWINBOURNE: It is lack of collection. There is over $800 million owed to children. That's money that has not been paid in child support, so those children are missing out on support from their other parent.

MICHAEL SPIVAK: We know that there's been efforts made by the Child Support Agency to deal with that problem. We say that those efforts need to be redoubled, because our understanding is that you know that debt continues to grow.

KATHLEEN SWINBOURNE: Even though the agency does have the power to look at what people they suspect are minimising their income, in reality they have only taken up 500 of these cases. Now we know there are 100,000 people out there who are really suspect, and yet the agency - through lack of resources or lack of willpower, I'm not sure - have only addressed 500 of those. That is a real concern.

DICK HONEYMAN: There's fellas out there that genuinely lose their incomes after a broken marriage and that sort of thing and they might be on $100,000 or $150,000 a year and they drop back to $25,000-$35,000 a year - that's all they can cope with in some circumstances. The Child Support Agency doesn't see that that's a legitimate drop in income. They deem them to be still able to earn the higher amount that they previously earned, and they incur a debt.

NARRATOR: Yet Dick Honeyman says the CSA re-assesses him every three months on his fluctuating income, for support for son Jasper, who comes to visit dad, but lives with mum.

DICK HONEYMAN: I'm an outdoor contractor so sometimes, the winter times slows the work down quite a lot so I might go onto quite low income for over that 3-month period and I am reassessed then and pay a lesser amount than in the better times. My income goes up fairly dramatically and I'm reassessed then and pay a fair bit higher amount which is acceptable to me, that that's the way it works.

NARRATOR: Renting a one-room cottage, Dick Honeyman says it's been tough setting up another household in which to bring his son.

DICK HONEYMAN: Work it out week by week, really, whatever happens. Some weeks there's bills in there and we stay quiet at home and then other weeks we might have a few dollars left over and we'll go and do something, and that's pretty much the situation. I look after him the best I can when he's with me and I try to assist in any little way that I can with his mother, if there's facilities, like his sport and activities and that type of thing.

NARRATOR: The fathers groups have argued hard that instead of a paying parents income, the cost of raising a child should be the key factor.

DICK HONEYMAN: I'd like to see a system where the government sets the figure for the children. The fathers may well come back out of the wilderness and go back into the work force and be contributing in several ways to the tax coffers. NARRATOR: Early indications show this will be an area the task force re-examines closely. The cost of setting up two households post-divorce looks set to be taken into account, and the combined income of both parents, adjusted for who contributes what and the amount of contact with the kids, is part of the men's groups' wishlist set to be fulfilled. They've also lobbied hard to have second jobs or overtime excluded from child support calculations.

TONY MILLER: If they get a second job and they try to work harder, they try and better themselves, they are going to be penalised by paying more child support.

HELEN DALLEY: OK - wouldn't it be fair to say if you're going to better yourself then your child should also have a better standard of living, so you should pay more?

TONY MILLER: Well, understood, but there's got to be a limit there somewhere. If the guy's going to keep...it turns out with most guys, when they try to get overtime and extra pay, the amount of child support they are paying negates the benefit, so they are actually worse off, so they don't do it.

NARRATOR: But on the other side, teens over the age of 13 will cost a paying parent more, backed up by research that teenagers cost more to raise than younger children. But men's groups have long argued it's unfair to exempt $38,000 of a resident parent's income before child support is reduced, but paying parents only get $13,000 exempted from child support assessment. The task force looks set to bring more parity to these figures, a potential big win for paying parents.

KATHLEEN SWINBOURNE: The scheme so far has been very, very successful in lifting a lot of children out of poverty, that combined with increased family payments.

HELEN DALLEY: And is it your fear that many families with children who are owed child support will be made poorer after these changes?

KATHLEEN SWINBOURNE: Our fear is that given that this is driven by people who want to reduce their child support, and looking at all the other changes that are happening for sole parents with changes to their income support and work obligations, yes, that is a real fear for us and we would hate to see that happen.

NARRATOR: Whatever changes are announced next week, they're unlikely to appease all sides. While most divorced, non-resident parents fulfil their child support duty without the intervention of government agencies, for those who do need the collection agency, it is not an easy path for either parent to support their children. Mums like Katrina say they end up disenchanted with the system.

KATRINA: Feel let down that they...that they're not helping me or helping him to raise the children. They are allowing him to shirk his responsibilities. NARRATOR: While Maria's children spend time with their father, without adequate child support paid to her, Maria struggles to pay bills and the mortgage.

MARIA: When the phone rings and you think is that a friend or relative or is it somebody who wants money, it's horrible and just waiting for the answering machine to pick it up, because you don't want to say I can't pay it, yeah, it is hard. I think he should contribute towards the 70% of the time that they are not within his care, just because they are his children.

NARRATOR: Yet non-resident dads like Graham feel just as scarred by the system and want changes to help him.

GRAHAM: I can't cope and I just don't know where to go anymore. If I didn't have my wife now I would be dead. I can't just keep going the way it is, it is just too hard.


    By:George from Nsw, Australia on May 6, 2012 @ 10:24 pm
    I don't believe that guy. Maybe there is a reason that the mother doesn't want her child to see the father. Whether it be something little or something that they will know will happen in the future and are trying to prevent it. A mother always knows whats best for her child so don't waste time or money in court trying to see child.

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