Focusing on strengthening families and encouraging responsibility
Posted by: Sue Atkins
I work with many parents going through separation, divorce or break up as I have a Coaching Programme called “Successful Separation” and recently I have been talking to Collaborative Lawyers about how they can often lessen the stress associated with this very painful process.
I believe that “Divorce is a process – not an event” and that parents will probably experience many different emotions ranging from denial, anger resentment, fear, sadness, relief, to eventual acceptance.
I am here to support, champion and encourage them through this time of change, asking good questions to help them find their own answers, as every parent I work with is unique and different because one size doesn’t fit all.
My “Successful Separation” is a 6 Week Coaching Programme which aims to give parents clarity, direction and confidence while empowering them to positively manage the impact of their divorce or separation on their whole family.
The Government is proposing an overhaul of the current system of child support, saying it too often “drives a wedge” between parents and their children.
They say more separating couples should be helped to find a settlement on their own in the interests of the child.
Parents will be encouraged to explore all options before going to court but must pay a fee for statutory help.
One charity has expressed concern about the assistance available to the most vulnerable and poorest families.
The child maintenance system has long been criticised for being inefficient and failing to support parents most in need.
The much-maligned Child Support Agency was effectively axed in 2008 when it was rolled into a new body – the Child Maintenance and Enforcement Commission.
Ministers say there is currently £4bn arrears in maintenance payments from non-resident parents while less than half of the 3.5 million children whose parents are separated are adequately supported.
As part of a proposed shake-up – which is subject to consultation – some couples will be offered help to calculate how much maintenance is appropriate for their children.
“If the welfare of the child is to remain paramount then the system must make allowances for vulnerable families whose hands are tied by the strain of living in poverty” Martin Narey Barnardos Chief Executive
Parents will get free advice from voluntary and charitable bodies on the options available to them before deciding whether to reach an independent settlement or opt to use the statutory service.
Ministers also want to extend the role of Child Maintenance Options, the public body which provides advice to separating couples and those wanting to alter their maintenance arrangements.
They believe the new approach will encourage greater parental responsibility, allied to separate efforts to provide more counselling on relationship and financial matters.
Should individuals be unable to resolve the situation themselves and opt for statutory guidance, they will have to pay a one-off application fee – £100 for those in work, £50 for those on benefits and £20 for those in the most acute financial need.
Officials say the charges – which will not apply to cases involving domestic violence – will recoup only a part of the current cost of processing applications.
The government stress that the proposals put child welfare first and are not being driven by the need to make savings across the public sector.
“The plans, which focus on strengthening families, will encourage responsibility,” the Department for Work and Pensions said.
“The current statutory system costs about £460m a year to run and can drive a wedge between parents and their children – encouraging conflict.
“The government believes that reaching a settlement independently is far more likely to produce better outcomes for the child.”
The proposals are designed to build on changes introduced by the Labour government designed to ensure parents living apart fulfil their responsibilities to support their children financially.
While it was right for parents to exercise responsibility for their childrens’ welfare by resolving arrangements themselves, Barnardos said this would not be possible in all cases.
“The government need to tell us what will happen to those parents who are unable to reach an amicable settlement and equally unable to pay for a statutory service,” its chief executive Martin Narey said.
“If the welfare of the child is to remain paramount then the system must make allowances for vulnerable families whose hands are tied by the strain of living in poverty.”
The government is reviewing the future of the Child Support Agency, which still handles maintenance cases on a day-to-day basis. It wants more focus on vulnerable children and tackling evasion.
The Child Maintenance and Enforcement Commission, which took over responsibility for assessment, guidance and enforcement, says it is making progress in pursuing parents in arrears and more than 850,000 children are now receiving support – 260,000 more than in 2006.
What are your experiences of the child support system and handling separationor divorce? You can post your stories using the form below.