Child-support reforms 'unfair'

By Frank Cassidy

Canberra Times
Saturday Feb 26 2000

The promise of fairer child-support rules has been dashed by an unfair and restrictive regulation enforced by the Child Support Agency, according to the Men's Rights Agency.

The law was changed last year to, among other things, allow paying parents to divert up to 25 per cent of their child support into benefits or services provided directly to their children.

But, by restricting payments to just eight approved categories, the Child Support Agency has been accused of undermining the will of Parliament and perpetuating the unfairness in the system.

Director of the Men's Rights Agency Sue Price said the rule change was brought about to give paying parents a feeling that at least some of the money they were paying was going to their child or for issues they were concerned about.

"Restricting the payments is to thwart the will of Parliament," she said. Mrs Price said many more paying parents would be able to claim relief under the 25 per cent rule if the list was expanded "as it should be".

Attention was drawn to the restrictions when a 36-year old school principal in country NSW had the medical insurance he paid for his three children refused as part of the 25 per cent.

The approved list includes only school or pre-school fees, essential medical and dental fees, child care and an ex-partner's rent, rates, mortgage, utilities and motor-vehicle expenses.

The father, whose children spend two weeks a month with him complained that almost none of the costs of supporting them were allowed as credits against the $800 a month he was forced to pay as child support.

"I can't claim anything in kind," the man said, despite meeting his children's school uniforms, schoolbags, sporting fees, food and clothing and needing to maintain a complete household for them.

"I can't see how this system is benefiting the kids."

Sue Price said the CSA's limited list of approved payments contrasted starkly with the long list of non-cash maintenance payments used by Centrelink to calculate reductions in family allowance. She said these were the same payments, made between the same parents for the same children, but were being treated totally differently within the same department.

"Centrelink has a huge list that could encompass any item you're going to spend on a child."

She accused the Government of taking all non-cash payments into account to reduce the family allowance "to save itself money" but of restricting child -support entitlements to a few because it "doesn't want to save the paying parent any money".

Robin Poke, of the Child Support Agency, defended the differences in the lists of allowable payments saying they were used for different purposes.

"The social-security list is centred around working out a person's entitlement to family payment and the CSA list is specified in child-support regulations," he said. Mr Poke said if parents agreed, any non-cash payments whatsoever could be taken into account by the CSA and could be up to 100 per cent of the liability.

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