Book Review : Child Support Handbook 2012/13

Jody Atkinson

 

This review is a guest post written by  Jody Atkinson, barrister at St John’s Chambers, Bristol. Jody is instructed in both children and money cases, and has a particular interest in the trickier areas of family law, such as cohabitation and child support.

Child Poverty Action Group, Child Support Handbook 2012/2013, (20th Edition, CPAG)

 

The complexity of the law surrounding child support and the problems with the organisation that is responsible for enforcing and collecting it, the CSA/CMEC (characteristically whilst having changed its name, CMEC continues to refer to itself as the CSA), are both well known.

 

When a family lawyer is confronted with a client who is facing difficulties with child support, they would be well advised to reach for this book. It provides clear and sensible guidance on all areas of the law concerning child support. It deals both with working out how much an non resident parent should be paying, and enforcement. At £28 it is reasonably priced for a law book (and by buying a copy one supports a charity).

CPAG are well known for publishing an annual book: Welfare Benefits and Tax Credits. This makes them well placed when dealing with child support. The reason why child support law is so confusing and alien to family lawyers is because it uses the same legislation and tribunals as welfare benefit law. Family lawyers are used to judges with wide discretionary powers taking all the circumstances into account. Child support law is meant to be administered by CSA robots who cannot be trusted to exercise a discretion. The language of revisions and supersessions  is completely different to that of the County Court, and it is not just a change of terminology but a substantively different approach. This book is very good at navigating the reader through some of this maze.

 

Difficult areas such as variations and shared care are well covered. If I had a complaint it would be the citation of cases. Child support cases do not generally have names, but are referred to as either CCS/1129/2005, or if 'reported' as R(CS) 1/09. It would be helpful if the authors could give all of the available citations for the cases, rather than just one, as it can be hard to find them on the internet otherwise (if one does not subscribe to CPAGs online database). I could also question the need for an annual edition, as little has changed in the last twelve months in child support.

 

Other competing volumes are the Resolution guide to this area, which I have also reviewed. This is, unsurprisingly, more of a guide for ancillary relief solicitors, and is not as comprehensive as the CPAG book. CPAG also publish Upper Tribunal Judge Jacob's book Child Support: The Legislation (10th Edition). This, as the name suggests, is an annotated statute book. It is not recommended unless you already have this book and some idea of how the system works, but is essential for those who actually plan to attend tribunals.

 

Book Review: Safe Routes to Child Support: A Resolution Guide

Jody Atkinson

 

This review is a guest post written by  Jody Atkinson, barrister at St John’s Chambers, Bristol. Jody is instructed in both children and money cases, and has a particular interest in the trickier areas of family law, such as cohabitation and child support.

Safe Routes to Child Support: A Resolution Guide by James Pirrie, Benjamin Carter and Stephen Lawson (Resolution, 2011)

 

Safe Routes to Child Support

As this guide wisely points out, the law pertaining to the agency formerly known as the Child Support Agency (now calling itself C-MEC, but frequently continuing to use the Agency's vast stocks of headed note paper), is an area that many family lawyers instinctively shy away from. This is because it is an alien landscape; decision makers operate on the basis of statutory formulas rather than wide discretions and disputes often end up before the specialist Appeal Tribunals rather than the more familiar courts.

 

At the present time, the two other guides to child support law are published by CPAG (the Child Poverty Action Group). The Child Support Handbook is part of the same series as the Welfare Benefits and Tax Credits Handbook and is aimed primarily at those advising benefits claimants. Ancillary relief solicitors may not find that it specifically meets their needs. Child Support: The Legislation, written by Upper Tribunal Judge Edward Jacobs, is the annotated statute book. This is essential for those who actually plan to contest tribunal cases before the Appeals Tribunal, but is not a text book, and will be utterly impenetrable to those who know little about child support law.

 

For most family lawyers I would unhesitatingly recommend the Resolution Guide. The first thing I would compliment it upon is its readability. The child support regulations are notoriously complicated and discussion of them can be very dry. The authors manage to inject some humour into what could otherwise be a dull read. The pre 2003 assessment formula, abandoned because of its unworkable intricacies, is described as 'a thing of beauty'. This may be true, but it is a terrible beauty. As befits a Resolution publication, the authors remind the readers that family lawyers are practical creatures, and, rather than getting bogged down in the regulations, frequently return to exhortations not to lose sight of the reality of the situation for the clients. In the same practical vein, there are checklists, frequently asked questions, and sample letters and agreements towards the back of the book.

The book starts off with a helpful chapter about the inter-relationship between court orders and the Agency's calculations. This is frequently misunderstood and is something that all ancillary relief solicitors need to know. Another useful chapter explains how Agency decisions are to be challenged. This is alien to county court lawyers, child support law has its own language of revisions, supercessions and variations. The time limits are tight and the approach required can be counter intuitive. Any solicitor approached by a client with an existing relationship with the Agency needs an understanding this area or they will get lost very quickly. I have been approached by solicitors who, frustrated by the obtuse nature of the Agency staff, are already contemplating judicial review. JR is, of course, the remedy of last resort, and thus rarely appropriate, especially when there is a costs free tribunal set up just to deal with child support claims. However, JR, and also less extreme methods of making a complaint, are dealt with towards the back of the book.

 

Overall this book, reasonably priced at £70, would be good addition to any family law practice's shelf, and again shows the excellent service that Resolution provide to their members and to those involved the family law system.

This book is published by Resolution and can be purchased through their website here.

 

 

 

Financial Entitlements for Kinship Carers

I have posted on this topic before. The One Show tonight ran a piece about Local Authorities advising kinship carers to seek residence orders in order to avoid their ongoing duty to a child, in particular to avoid an ongoing financial duty by way of carers allowance. I just wanted to briefly post about this because I think some people could have come away with a rather oversimplified view of the situation, namely 'residence order = bad, kinship carers allowance  = good'. As ever, it ain't that simple.

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The basic premise was valid - local authorities often do try to push cases in the direction of private law orders in order to close their files (and thereby focus resources on the families who have more acute need), and sometimes this becomes resource rather than welfare driven (and there are examples of this in the previous post linked above). However the situation is much more complex than is suggested by the piece. There are any number of reasons why a residence order may be the most suitable arrangement notwithstanding the potential financial disadvantage: not least the fact that it will give parental responsibility to the carer and NOT the local authority and will (all things being equal) leave the family to go about their normal lives in peace.

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The report slightly missed the point about the entitlement to a kinship carers allowance - which is that entitlement is determined by whether or not the arrangment was set up by the local authority following their intervention to protect the child. If that is the case the allowance is payable for as long as the child remains in kinship care unless and until a residence order is later made. And special guardianship orders are another option which was not discussed at all.

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The piece also suggested that where a residence order had been obtained the situation could be reversed to give the carer status and entitlement to kinship carers allowances. I am dubious about this as is Nigel Priestley, the solicitor featured in the One Show report and in one of the cases referred to in my previous post. See his comments as quoted on The One Show's information pages.

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Like the One Show report I have only touched the surface of this area of law which is quite complicated. I have highlighted one or two points which do not come through sufficiently clearly in the short tv piece. Anyone who is in the position of recently taking over care of a young relative and wondering what to do should get advice. The Family Rights Group factsheets highlighted by The One Show Info pages are a really good starting point. If you are in any doubt seek advice from a lawyer, and if they cannot afford a lawyer and cannot obtain legal aid they should ask the local authority to pay for a consultation with a family solicitor to clarify their rights and options. Some local authorities will agree to meet this cost as a one off.