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Polarising the Argument

One has to wonder if the ‘single parent’ charity Gingerbread is trying to use The Times to pull the wool over the eyes of the public and the establishment. In an article  headlined ‘Fathers use elaborate tricks to avoid paying child support’ we hear the same old one-sided story implying that men are feckless ‘high-rollers’ who care nothing for their children and who create elaborate financial scams to defraud the hapless Child Maintenance and Tax authorities who are left trailing in their wake.

This seems part of a campaign that seeks to convince us all that men are bad, women are good and children are best saved from having to have a relationship with their fathers. Gingerbread and others seek to polarise the argument about what’s best for children of separated parents. 

The Times sets out the ways that these ‘typical fathers’ continue to abuse their defenceless ex-partners and children - see www.thetimes.co.uk, which includes the following:

HOW DIVORCEES HIDE WEALTH

       Set up a limited company for professional earnings and pay a salary to a new wife or partner

       Run a limited company and take a small salary but with lavish benefits and large pension contributions

       Transfer large shareholdings to a family member so dividends are not declared on your gross income

       Draw income from ISAs or trust funds that are not liable for income tax and are “invisible” to HMRC

       Hold substantial wealth in assets and live off the capital while declaring little or no income

 

Well that doesn’t sound like the ‘typical’ dad who calls our helpline or comes to our network of advice and support meetings across the UK. 

Let us introduce ‘Mark’. He’s a dad of two living in South Wales. His eldest child lives with his mother. She’s fought for almost a decade to prevent their child from having a relationship with his father. ‘Mark’ is unemployed, currently receiving £73.10 per week in Job Seeker’s Allowance. BUT, from those benefits he has £8.40 deducted by the Child Maintenance service and paid to the mother of his child. She works part-time and receives the full array of benefits given to her because she is a single parent with a child, and she has a monthly income more than 20 times higher than ‘Mark’. Mark’s position highlights a further problem that impacts directly on children because this ‘deduction’ from his benefits takes food from the mouth of his second child leaving ‘Mark’ unable to pay for the most basic of items. 

Another dad, ‘David’ who is on an average UK salary pays around 20% of his take-home pay to support his children when their mother is a high earner on ten times his salary and yet is completely disregarding child arrangement orders.

The article also makes little attempt to take a ‘gender-neutral’ approach. Current estimates suggest that a small proportion of primary carers for children are men. So now let us introduce you to ‘Emily’. She’s a mum who isn’t the main carer for her child. ‘Emily’ sometimes struggles with her mental health but always prioritises and puts her child first. She works part time in a low wage job. She barely earns enough to pay National Insurance (currently £8,400 p.a.). The main carer for her child has a high powered full time career earning over 5 times what ‘Emily’ earns. Yet the Child Maintenance authorities pursue HER for a percentage of her annual income. 

Surely these stories can’t be right? How can the state create a system where individuals on benefits or in very low wage jobs can possibly have money deducted from them to pay to the ‘main carer’ who may already monopolise a range of childcare benefits and may also earn substantial amounts from wage and investment income – all of which is given no attention when assessing what should be paid? How much do you have to earn for the Government to take money from you to pay to the other parent? Well the answer is £7. Yes - £7 per week. That’s all you need to ‘earn’ before the Government will step in and take money from you to give to the other parent of your child. 

The first £100 of weekly income results in a flat rate £7 charge. But when you start to really earn some cash then Child Maintenance properly kicks in. The threshold for paying a percentage of your income is just £100 per week! ‘Emily’ only has one child. This means that from everything she earns above £100 a week the Government will take 17% of her gross income and pay it to the other parent who earns five times more than she does. So when ‘Emily’ has her child living with her she has so little money to care for her that it seriously undermines the relationship between her and her child. Incidentally, the £100 threshold, intended to allow for paying parents essential cost of living, has not been reviewed for almost 20 years. Is it a surprise then that many decide to give up working altogether?

Child Maintenance does however have one mechanism for recognising that the ‘paying parent’ also has costs linked to being a parent. For each night that the child stays with the ‘paying parent’ the amount paid to the ‘receiving parent ‘is reduced by 1/7th. But even that creates a perverse disincentive which results in the following:  We see many fathers who are told that despite an order, they can’t have the child in their care overnight - simply so the parent with care can claw back some child maintenance.

One case that particularly stands out was a dad called ‘Colin’ who shared the care of his children almost equally following separation. The mother, already in receipt of 100% of all child tax credits, used child maintenance as a form of control over him – on several occasions unilaterally stating that she was stopping contact when he disagreed with anything she said about the care of their children. On one such occasion the father had the Child Maintenance Service on the phone within 2 hours to ‘adjust’ his payments as they’d heard he was no longer seeing his children so he couldn’t claim the ‘discount’ for each night they were in his care.  

The one-sidedness of an argument which places a ‘single’ parent centre frame at the expense if the other parent by a publicly funded pressure group is a gross distortion. We know that there ARE men who walk away from their responsibilities. But these media attacks portraying a one-sided argument have to be challenged. Together with our sister charity FNF-BPM Cymru we have made submissions to the House of Commons Work & Pensions Committee about the new Child Maintenance system (see here, here and here). We know the CMS is far from perfect – we can agree that with Gingerbread – yet the evidence of real hardship – of manipulation by ‘receiving' parents using coercive and controlling behaviours to ‘punish’ their former partners was basically ignored. Do we think the fact that more than three quarters of all suicides are by men, has any connection with this problem? Well the answer is that we genuinely don’t know because no-one is properly investigating why men in mid-life seem so intent on killing themselves every year. But here are just some of the comments we received in response to a survey of the experience of dads in Wales 

I attempted suicide ten years ago when my ex-wife told me if I didn't hand the house  over to her she would tell enough lies to ensure I never saw my children again.

Having my children taken away from me. I was very close to my sons. Then having 42 allegations against me just so that she could get legal aid. Suicide seemed the best option. Twice I tried to hang myself and once I stood on a railway track. The Samaritans talked me off the track.

(Quotes from 2017 Welsh Dads survey p24)

 

So the next time you hear the hackneyed myth that fathers are like ‘Rich Uncle Moneybags’ and that they use the system to oppress poor deserving mothers and their children, maybe you’ll just pause to think how little that view reflects the truth. Monopolising the argument harms children – it’s time for the whole story to be told.

 

(Based on an article published by FNF-BPM Cymru)

Please address any queries/requests for info to FNF (media@fnf.org.uk) - 0300 0300 110.

Notes for editors:

Families Need Fathers - because both parents matter
FNF is a registered charity providing information and support on shared parenting issues arising from family breakdown, and support to divorced and separated parents, irrespective of gender or marital status. FNF is NOT a fathers' rights group - we support the best interests of children - namely mature and collaborative parenting by both parents - an objective which is inadequately promoted in the family court system and associated services.

Our primary concern is the maintenance of the child’s meaningful relationship with both parents.

Founded in 1974, FNF helps thousands of parents every year.

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FNF HSSF Kite Mark Award

Families Need Fathers has been awarded the Help and Support for Separated Families Kite Mark which is a new UK government accreditation scheme for organisations offering help to separated families.

Families Need Fathers work with a range of family law professionals, including Family Law Panel

 

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