The replacement of the much-maligned Child Support Agency (CSA) should bring tougher enforcement on orders for absent parents to support their offspring – but for many people very little will change.
That's the view of family law specialist Woolley & Co as the new Child Maintenance and Enforcement Commission (CMEC) comes into being this week.
Andrew Woolley, managing partner at the firm, believes stronger powers to enforce orders, for instance stopping travel abroad, using debt collection agencies, and naming and shaming non-payers, should all help ensure more money is paid for dependent children where it is due.
“Anything which can help in getting people to honour financial agreements made to support their children has to be a good thing,” said Andrew, based in Stratford-upon-Avon, who has a team of lawyers working from satellite office across the Midlands and the south.
“But there seem to be many cases where the payer – and sometimes the payee too – think the amount ordered is impossible to pay. We have had a lot of contact from people who find the appeal process very slow and difficult to work through. That has not been overhauled in this change. Tough enforcement in those cases might well bring the CMEC into disrepute in exactly the same way as the CSA. New name, same problems.
“I think it's always been rather odd that people and courts can decide on figures of maintenance for the parent but not for the children. It's hard to do the former without the figure for the latter! Now it seems people can have all done together by agreement and thus by the court. I think most people, who can, will go down this route.
“I can't see any incentive for people on benefit to make any agreements and I suspect they'll leave things to the CSA. So it should become much more openly what it really started for – a method of getting money in to reduce the cost of benefit for single parent families.
“Will people call it CMEC? I doubt it, certainly not for some years. CSA is surely going to continue as a name for some time. The only way to start getting away from this is to show that the system really has improved”
Woolley & Co has pioneered working without town centre office, making the most of new communications technology and working flexible hours, with clients able to purchase fixed fee service directly from their website.