The Child Maintenance and Enforcement Commission (CMEC) which took over from the Child Support Agency (CSA) in 2008 have proposed a reform in the way in which settlements for child support are created.

Under the current system a lone parent can file for a child maintenance payment settlement off the other parent free of charge if a mutual agreement can not be made. However, the CMEC now wish to start charging up to £100 for this service.

The idea beyond the proposal is to provide more incentive to come to a mutual agreement; a mutual agreement is when the parents of a child negotiate an acceptable payment scheme which best suits them. The CMEC says under the current system parents are not even attempting to form mutual agreements in lieu of forced settlements.

The problem with forced settlement is the cost to the government and the time it takes to enforce said agreement, currently the CMEC spends £460m a year enforces settlements in over 850,00 cases.
The CMEC state that although money is a factor, the welfare of a child as and will always be the key issue for them. The CMEC state that the changes will improve child welfare as, forced settlements often have to be made in accordance with visitation restrictions, as the more time away from the child means the higher the cost of support. The CMEC have recorded many cases when a child has been forced to spend less time with one parent so that the other parent can claim a more exorbitant fee.

These changes will not always be enforced, state the CMEC, in cases of domestic violence for example. Advice in calculating fair payments within mutual agreements will still be offered free, as well as the Child Maintenance Options (CMO) service which offer free support to parents who wish to review their existing child maintenance settlements.

These proposals have received criticism in the form of the chief executive of Barnados, Martin Narey who said “The government need to tell us what will happen to those parents who are unable to reach an amicable settlement and equally unable to pay for a statutory service”. Mr. Narey did say that he does believe the CMEC’s intentions are based around child welfare and not around saving money.

- What are you opinions on this matter?
- Should parents have the right to free legal council, even if they do not wish to try a mutual agreement?
- Is the proposal money or welfare based?