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.

 

 

 

A bit Woolley…

A couple of tweets from @woolleyandco alerted me to some interesting posts on their blog: Andrew Woolley has it spot on about Baroness Deech's curiously reality-detached approach to humiliating divorce settlements (I think she means demeaning, but anyway). "You say humiliating, I say equality...". Doesn't scan but you get the point. And as for the post on Baroness Deech's remarks about grandparents' entitlement to financial recompense for their gratis childcare - well I've posted previously about the political expediency of pandering to grandparents rights organisations, and all I have to add is this observation: do we really want to go down this road? If grandparents are entitled to claim maintenance from their children who 'take advantage' of free childcare, will the parents be able to recoup that in later years for the care they will give the elderly grandparents? Or perhaps parents should be able to recoup their childcare costs from their children's earnings in years to come? We could all do with acknowledging how much grandparents offer their children and their grandchildren, but their contribution is more than one dimensional - financial support, childcare, time and love. And isn't the essence of (grand)parental love that it is voluntary?

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My own parents routinely take our son for a day a week, but whilst for them they are pleased to feel they have helped us out with childcare, we are pleased to ensure that they have some quality time with their grandson. We try not to rely on it as failsafe childcare, being sensitive to when they have something else they need to do that day, but we would want to keep up this special time with grandma and granddad even when we aren't at work. For my son Monday is Ga-mma day. It's not a transaction we could quantify with money. That would be demeaning. I do see the arguments for being able to claim working tax credits childcare element if a grandparent is giving up a large chunk of their week and is prevented from earning money through other work (although I also see the difficulties with it), but to create maintenance obligations between different tiers of family members just undercuts the whole notion of family helping family - politicians are obsessed with trying to strengthen the family and 'mend' society, reducing the family to a set of financial obligations or contracts is not going to help cement our society together or make our children happier.

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As a footnote, its heartening to see that what I would call a 'marketing blog' can still be an interesting read, and can contain some real and insightful opinion. If a blog is worth doing it has to contain some human input and not just be an endless stream of advertorial. Whilst Woolley and Co have clearly invested heavily in their online media marketing strategy, they are doing it well. So many other firms are doing it badly.

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.