Minister for Social Protection Regina Doherty has voiced support for the campaign to establish an agency to adjudicate on child maintenance cases so parents would not have to endure the stress and acrimony of going to court.
In a move welcomed by single parents’ support groups, Ms Doherty posted on Twitter on Tuesday that the current situation – where parents often had to go to court over relatively small sums – was “not a great way to do things”.
“Maybe it’s time to start thinking about a statutory maintenance agency to step in and guarantee fairness and efficiency here,” she said.
She also posted a link to an article in The Irish Times article in which separated parents outlined their difficulties with the current system.
It refers too to a study by One Family, published this summer, which found less than 60 per cent of separated parents who are primary carers received maintenance, and of these, 58 per cent had to go to court to get a maintenance order.
One Family, along with Spark (Single Parents Acting for the Rights of our Kids) has for several years called for the establishment of an agency to ensure children, many in very low-income one-parent families, benefit from maintenance. This could be done by the agency paying the maintenance out of public funds and recouping it from the secondary parent. In cases where the second parent genuinely cannot pay, the agency would ensure the children benefit regardless.
Agencies like this exist in Britain and Sweden.
In 2017 the United National committee on the elimination of discrimination against women, in its report on Ireland, said the Government should "consider establishing a statutory maintenance authority and prescribing amounts for child maintenance in order to reduce the burden on women of having to litigate to seek child maintenance orders".
Ms Kiernan said One Family "very much welcomes the Government finally seeing this as a really urgent requirement to ensure children are not left without means and the family courts are not unnecessarily clogged up with conflict.
"We are aware, however, that the Department of Social Protection does cut people's social welfare payments according to how much maintenance they are awarded in the courts and we are aware of cuts even when maintenance is not being paid. This is ongoing and must be addressed."
Louise Bayliss, co-founder of Spark, said she was "delighted" with the message from Ms Doherty. "We have been looking for this since 2012. No one wanted to talk about it for years but finally it seems it is getting traction. I am very excited to be honest that finally it seems something is going to be done."