Child support

Written By: - Date published: 9:39 am, July 9th, 2010 - 48 comments
Categories: families - Tags: , ,

Some topics always generate passionate debate – contentions issues relating to deeply held personal beliefs that cannot be shifted by reason. Abortion is one such topic, in the news again recently, and discussed in Julie’s post here at The Standard. Like the burden of bearing and raising a child, the burden of the anger that this debate generates falls mainly on women – mothers. Fathers get a pretty easy time of it on abortion. But where they take a turn in the front line is the issue of child support:

Absent dads owe billions in unpaid child support

Inland Revenue is owed more than $1.8 billion by parents who have shirked their financial responsibilities. Figures released to the Sunday Star-Times by Inland Revenue show that of the 176,500 people liable for child support, 121,500 are behind in their payments. Together they owe more than $560 million in unpaid child support and $1.2b in late payment penalties and interest. The top five defaulters alone have an outstanding bill of $5.7m.

“It’s a national disgrace,” said Bob McCoskrie, national director of lobby group Family First. “What it communicates is that people can go around and make children and then show next to no responsibility in terms of their well-being,” he said. “You have to pay up for the consequences of your choices. If we enforced the consequences, then maybe people would think more seriously about conceiving a child they have no intention of showing any responsibility for.

If that was all there was to the story I might find myself agreeing with Bob McCoskrie, and that would be a cold day in hell. So let’s read a little deeper:

Revenue Minister Peter Dunne is not ruling out changes to the system. “The problem is not child support itself. We actually collect 90% of the principal of child support [the money that goes directly to the child] that is owing. Where the debt problem arises is with unpaid penalties on that principal,” Dunne said.

That puts things in a slightly different light. 90% of the money due to kids is getting through. Of course we want it to be 100%, but 90 isn’t a bad start. On the basis of this article what these “absent dads” appear to be less keen on paying is penalties and interest – and that’s a lot easier to sympathise with.

So, no danger of agreeing with McCoskrie after all. There is no message “that people can go around and make children and then show next to no responsibility”. The overwhelming majority of obligations are being met and there is no case for trying to demonise absent dads in general. By all means pursue the remaining 10% of funding due to children with all vigour. Improve and automate the collection system and make sure that as near as possible to every cent gets through to the kids. Then you won’t need a punitive penalty system. Write off the existing penalty debts – they were never real. My guess is that there will be higher voluntary compliance with a system that is seen to be rigourous, open and fair, with all money collected going to children.

And as to the perception of responsibilities – punitively punishing absent fathers is trying to shut the gate after the horse has bolted. Much more effective to work for prevention – an advertising and information campaign. Educate us all on what the consequences are if fathers walk out on, or for whatever other reason cannot be with, their kids.

48 comments on “Child support ”

  1. big bruv 1

    Yep, education would be a good start, of course the very best thing they could do would be to stop paying the DPB.

    • Tigger 1.1

      Really bb, wouldn’t the best thing be to ensure all those women have abortions – no kids means no reason for DPB at all?

    • kaplan 1.2

      Sure, because ensuring that young children starve is the best answer.

      • Lew 1.2.1

        Kaplan, they wouldn’t starve if their mothers cared enough about them to stay in abusive relationships or sell themselves to pay for food and lodging. Where’s their sense of responsibility and commitment?


  2. Living the Dream 2

    Surely in terms of education it makes sense to well educate the boys/young men/men as to what the function of their sperm are. Also men need to have a far deeper understanding of how the female reproductive system operates and its interaction with sperm. They need scientific knowledge and not the many word of mouth tales that circulate. Men need to take greater responsibility as to where their sperm go due to the serious consequence-babies!

    • Lanthanide 2.1

      In sex ed in high school we pretty good information about everything important. I certainly learnt a lot, not sure about other fellow in my class though.

      But they didn’t mention child support at all. That really should go along with the safe sex message – if you don’t have safe sex and end up having to pay child support, it will cost you $ per week. *That*, along with STD risk, should help get the message through.

      • mouse 2.1.1

        Lanthanide… agreed… both sides of the balance sheet are not presented… not to mention, both sides of the balance sheet over time, not being presented… let alone comprehended.

    • mouse 2.2

      Personally, I agree with your views… unfortunately for young men though, there are times when their intellectual capacity is in-voluntarily delegated to the open mike.

  3. prism 3

    Together they owe more than $560 million in unpaid child support and $1.2b in late payment penalties and interest. The top five defaulters alone have an outstanding bill of $5.7m.

    Is most of this in late penalties plus interest? In business there is a process of writing of bad debts which can’t be recovered. In the USA they brand non-payers ‘deadbeat dads’ if they don’t or can’t pay their child support. But the state may set a larger payment due than can be afforded. He may have another family and is carrying out his responsibilities to them but has a low income with no discretionary funds for his previous liaison. If the dad gets into strife and has fines to pay, is an alcoholic or street drug addict then it is obvious there will be a problem.

    but see this –
    Revenue Minister Peter Dunne is not ruling out changes to the system. “The problem is not child support itself. We actually collect 90% of the principal of child support [the money that goes directly to the child] that is owing. Where the debt problem arises is with unpaid penalties on that principal,’ Dunne said.

    This topic is a favourite of right wingers (particularly men) who feel smug that they don’t have the problem and like beating others over the head. Some such would see no irony in their feeling superior though they may have built leaky homes and didn’t pay up or had businesses that went bust because of their lack of moral standards.

    • comedy 3.1

      If they owe 560 million out of 1.76 billion that is substantially more than 90% of the principal of child support.

      Is Dunne telling porkies or has the reporter got the numbers wrong ?

  4. joe90 4

    McCoskrie, see the name and this comes to mind. Revolting.

  5. Julie 5

    I suspect that in most cases where the absent parent is not paying child support (or, not paying all of it) it’s about either not being able to afford it (in which case that’s about how it is calculated) or a poor relationship with the other partner. I think it’s something like 5% of relationship breakdowns involving kids that end up at the Family Court for resolution. Perhaps it would be worth looking at some pro-active work around ensuring that when a romantic relationship between parents breaks up there is some support to build a sufficiently amicable parenting relationship that is good for the kids (and good for the adults too). I know some of this is available now through Relationship Services, but I’m sure they could do with more funding!

    • comedy 5.1

      I suspect a fair proportion is also where the father is absent after the date of fornication.

    • Lew 5.2

      Julie, surely you’re not suggesting that some (say – a couple of %) of those penalties and interest be diverted to funding programmes to prevent the need for child support liabilities and consequent defaults?

      Would never work. Much too sensible. Better to just stop paying the DPB. Sending women and children to the poor-house or putting them out on the streets and into abusive relationships will sure learn those dead-beat dads.


      • burt 5.2.1

        Better to give all people the same free ride with tax payers money. No penalties or interest and as long as they like to pay it back – Winston Peters and his $158,000 make punishing non compliant fathers look like the state being self serving and a bully…. Oh, that’s right – MPs are special, fathers are just normal people.

        • Lew

          burt, don’t try to tar me with the “you defended Winston Peters” brush. You know better than that.


        • burt


          I wasn’t intending to paint you that way. More when we talk about punishment for misuse of tax payers money it always makes we wonder why we (the people) tolerate such harsh regimes for compliance when MPs just say sorry and pay it back when (or if) they feel like it.

        • QoT

          “free ride”

          Because children live on air.

          • burt

            My comment was about the cost of non compliance as imposed by parliament in the relevant tax legislation, contrasted to Winston’s non payment of $158,000. Its a disgrace non custodial parents need this sort of incentive, indeed children do not live on air.

            I wonder if Winston would have made paying his $158,000 a priority if he we was getting whacked with late payment penalties of $3,476 the first month, $3,545 the next, $3,616 the third month and so on.

            ( see IR website – late child support payments )

      • comedy 5.2.2

        I was under the impression it was funded via the taxpayer at present.

        • Lew

          Yes, but clearly not to the extent necessary.


          • comedy

            You want to pay people to attend counselling ?

            • Lew

              Eh? I want relationship services funded to a level where they’re not struggling on a shoestring.


              • comedy

                Lew according to their website.

                “Did you know that many couples are eligible for free relationship counselling? Relationship Services provides this counselling nationwide, the Family Court authorises and funds the counselling.

                You can ask for free couple counselling to help resolve issues before you get to the point of separation or divorce. You don’t have to take legal proceedings or appear in court to be eligible for the counselling. This support is available to couples who are married, who have had a civil union, or who are in de facto relationships. It is available for both heterosexual and same sex couples and it is not means tested.

                The free counselling is also available if you are separating and need some help to work out agreements about the care of your children. Counselling can provide a neutral and safe environment to discuss care arrangements for children. Counselling can help you to clarify issues, address communication problems, and make decisions about your relationship. Counselling may help you to avoid legal proceedings altogether. ”

                and according to their latest financials (these may now be out of date) from their website

                “The financial position at 30th June 2009 is sound, with liquid assets covering four months of operational costs. Our Reserve Fund now stands at $991,527. Donations and grants received of $456,221 were an important part of our income. We are extremely thankful to our donors for joining with Relationship Services to assist so many in the community.”

                • Lew

                  There’s a bit more to it than RS, comedy.


                  • comedy

                    RS ?

                    • Lew

                      elationship ervices.


                    • TightyRighty

                      i’ve never twigged that you can’t spell relationship without elationship. felix will probably consider this a “duh” moment.

                    • comedy

                      Really I thought that they’d be the key group that could deliver a programme to ‘prevent the need for child support liabilities and consequent defaults’ rather than the bottom of the cliff approach at IRD.

                      But you must have a better insight than me I suppose.

                    • felix

                      TR, I consider it a moment of clarity, and a brilliant one at that.

              • Lanthanide

                6 free sessions really is not much. It should be 10 or 12. Even 8 would be a lot more useful.

  6. tc 6

    These numbers are rubbery at best…..speaking from personal experience I was chased for 25k that I didn’t owe when I came back home years back as I had sole custody and responsibility in another country for my child.

    It didn’t stop DSW and IRD taking my ex’s word and paying her monies she didn’t merit and hassling me offshore and then getting very heavy and nasty when I moved home.

    It took years of persistance on my part to get the slate wiped clean ( I started 5years before I returned and it took 8 years all up) ……most folk wouldn’t bother as they never intend living here again whereas I had no choice so how much of the number is cases like mine I wonder.

    • Rex Widerstrom 6.1

      Yours is one of hundreds of similar cases I’ve heard of (including my own).

      I was told I owed north of $100,000, including years of penalties.

      I had to hire a lawyer to point out to them that it was clearly established in law that you couldn’t start charging penalties till you’d actually asked for the money. Oops #1.

      Then to point out that the children had not been in the care of the mother for most of that time and the mother never claimed they had. Oops #2.

      Long story short – they were out by 1000% but it cost me close to $6,000 to prove it. No apology, let alone costs, just a reduced bill.

      This is typical of the contempt with which non-custodial parents are treated who don’t get attacked by their ex (mine has been decent and honest the entire time)… you can imagine how bad it gets for those who are.

      So, quite frankly, Bob McCroskie can stick his characterisation of people “showing no responsibility for their children” right up his ill-informed arse.

  7. RedLogix 7

    I suspect that in most cases where the absent parent is not paying child support (or, not paying all of it) it’s about either not being able to afford it (in which case that’s about how it is calculated) or a poor relationship with the other partner.

    Absolutely. The vast majority of so-called ‘deadbeat dads’ are simply men who after a number of years of doing battle with the system simply give up on having any access to their children until they are old enough to make their own choices. And out of sheer frustration, weariness and thousands wasted on lawyers…they walk away and try to start new lives for themselves. And at that point, rightly or wrongly they figure if they are not able to have a meaningful relationship with their own children, then there is not a lot of motivation to keep on shelling out for them. (And besides it’s usually the cash wasted on lawyers that causes the late penalty fees to start piling up.)

    Another smaller group of men find themselves in the invidious position of being named the father when they have no especial reason to believe they are. Back in the 80’s, before ethical rules tightened, at least two major genetic studies, one from the US and the other in the UK, discovered that at least 12% of all babies born do NOT have the father that the mother claims it has. That’s true for all babies born, both in and out of wedlock.

    These days getting a genetic test done to settle the matter is usually almost impossible if the mother objects…. leaving the putative father in the lousy position of shelling out nearly 18 years of support for a child they have no meaningful relationship with.

    Adressing these two issues alone would see DPB support collections get very close to the desired 100%.

    • comedy 7.1

      “These days getting a genetic test done to settle the matter is usually almost impossible if the mother objects . leaving the putative father in the lousy position of shelling out nearly 18 years of support for a child they have no meaningful relationship with.”

      If this is the case wouldn’t the court find in favour of the putative father ?

      And if your second paragraph is true then what a shambles if this is the situation the 121,500 that are behind in their payments find themselves in.

      And no one’s yet commented on the odd discrepancies in the figures reported in the article…

      “Figures released to the Sunday Star-Times by Inland Revenue show that of the 176,500 people liable for child support, 121,500 are behind in their payments.

      Together they owe more than $560 million in unpaid child support and $1.2b in late payment penalties and interest.

      The top five defaulters alone have an outstanding bill of $5.7m.”

      Revenue Minister Peter Dunne is not ruling out changes to the system.

      “The problem is not child support itself. We actually collect 90% of the principal of child support [the money that goes directly to the child] that is owing. Where the debt problem arises is with unpaid penalties on that principal,” Dunne said.

      Those numbers don’t tie together at all.

      • Lanthanide 7.1.1

        “Those numbers don’t tie together at all.”

        Maybe, maybe not. There’s no way to know what $ figure or % behind those 121,500 of the 176,500 listed are.

        Perhaps most of them are only behind by a couple of $100, out of the thousands they have paid thus far.

        Without knowing specific details of the amount each of those 121,500 owes, there is no way to say that Peter Dunne is completely wrong with his statement – he was talking about 90% of *money*, not 90% of fathers.

        • comedy

          560 million of 1.8 billion is not 90%.

          121,500 of 176,500 is not 90%.

          Or am I missing something ?

          • Lew

            You seem to be missing quite a lot.

            One of the points that you’re missing is that the $560m figure is the 10% left aside from the 90% of CS dues which are properly paid.

            Another is that the $1.8b is that figure + $1.2b in penalties and interest levied by IRD for nonpayment of that $560m.

            Another is that 121,500 people are behind in their payments, out of a total of 176,500, but there’s no suggestion that this (or their combined debt) constitutes 90% of anything.

            Really, I’m struggling to find anything that you’re not missing in all of this.


            • comedy

              Goodo so that suggests that around 5.5 billion is going through IRD/CYFS for child support seems like a helleva lot too me.

              Are you really as a pompous a cock as you come across in your comments or do you just read that way, or perhaps you’re just trying to have a dig after our previous tete a tete further up?

              • Lew

                I just don’t suffer fools — or those who appear to be fools — very gladly. Sorry about that, it’s hard to switch off.


                • comedy

                  Fair enough then you are obviously a pompous cock – a career in politics perhaps would suit.

                  • Lew

                    Hell no. How on earth would I survive in politics without the ability to suffer fools gladly?


                    • comedy

                      I was thinking of the pompous cock part of the equation ……… haven’t you seen the Ministers of the Crown in the debating chamber ?

                • lprent

                  I just don’t suffer fools — or those who appear to be fools — very gladly.


                  I generally don’t tolerate them at all on the net.

  8. prism 8

    When forced to name a father or lose (I think) a considerable amount of the benefit, women may name the wrong one, one that they can bear to have a long term, though distant relationship with etc. The poor male gets stuck in this bureaucratic morass introduced by pursed-lip pollies when they are not the genetic father at all yet have the burden of debt placed on them. Now they can get blood tests/DNA but someone says the mother can object. I don’t understand how that can be, but the ways of government are strange.

    Pollies ideas of getting fathers to take responsibility and enforcing tighter regulations help to keep dysfuctional partners together or be in fractious contact. It could be a major cause of domestic violence. One Night out Drinking and the woman gets a baby and a father to her baby and a lack of respect for each other, even dislike. A great start for a child. If she finds another and better partner, then the previous father still ‘owns’ part of the child and has a disruptive effect on the marriage/partnership.

    Then there is the way of deciding the amount of child support payments which can make life impossible for the second family. So another family is under stress when a better calculation based on a fair budget would result in a reasonable contribution which would be affordable.

  9. tazidev 9

    Consider this then decide

    Husband had well paying job in finance industry for 15 years, wife stayed home for 12 years to look after 3 children.

    Husband made redundant due to restructure and paid a good amount in compensation from good employer, as he did not need to go to work he discovered wife had been having affair for some considerable time while children were at school and husband at work.

    Wife cleaned out considerable balance in joint bank account after 1 month and disappeared with lover leaving husband with children in marital home. Husband had to leave new job to look after children.

    Having no money and needing to buy food etc and pay mortgage went to WINZ and was told that there was a 6 month standown on benefits due to size of redundancy payout.

    Upon explaining that money had gone was told rules are rules.

    Husband scraped through providing basic necessities for 6 months with the support of friends, family, in laws and occasional employment but had to neglect some mortgage payments.

    After sitting out the 6 months, he applied again and found out that ex had been on DPB for 6 months and claiming for 3 children who were actually living with him and as she had provided WINZ with a false address that he lived at, he had not responded to their communications, he was given the news that based on annual salary including redundancy after 15 years he owed a horrendous amount of money. Imagine the penalties.

    When arguing his case he was told that he was a terrible parent and had left his family in the lurch and would feel the full force of the law!!

    This was followed by prolonged terrorist attack from IRD such as requesting his bank to empty his account and send balance to them leading up to strategic times such as the week before Christmas.

    IRD and Bank then joined forces to bankrupt him as according to his ex he was hiding money. No money was ever found as she had already taken it.

    After several years of fighting everything was dropped, no apologies and his ex got a slap with a wet bus ticket.

    PS. No refunds of penalties and interest either.

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