Custody & Child Support: Does Mother Really Know Best?

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Written by Tim Barnes-Clay

Does the custody and child support system favour mothers over fathers?

For single parents, child maintenance can be a financial lifeline, providing a guaranteed supply of income to be spent entirely on the child. But is the system fair? We spoke to a single dad about his experience. 

Mother knows best – a dad’s perspective on custody and child maintenance

Craig* has one son, James, who was born in 2010. Now, as he turns six, James understands that mummy and daddy are ‘just friends’ and they get on better if they are apart. He was just two when the separation occurred.

“After splitting up you go through a lot of different feelings, there’s definitely anger but we didn’t split because we didn’t love each other and there was a point where we actually wondered if we had made a mistake,” said Craig.

The pair have a family based agreement arranged – which is still in place – and he saw James regularly.

“Originally we went through the Child Support Agency (CSA), but because they charge more if you go through them we set up an arrangement ourselves. It’s an extra £20 a month, which obviously adds up over the 18 years I have to pay towards James’s care.”

“At this point, we tried to work out in our heads how much this would amount to over 18 years. I rustled up a calculator and discovered it amounts to £4,320 in fees.”

This is why most separated partners opt for a family based arrangement that they organise themselves. Of course, in some cases the CSA is necessary, as people refuse to pay or a relationship that ended badly means those involved don’t negotiate well. It’s a formal way of arranging maintenance payments which is legally enforced, and there is plenty of help along the way.

Debt management service PayPlan confirms this in a survey they conducted, which asked 500 people from all over the UK with a child under 16 about their child maintenance situation. Of the respondents, 43.6% stated that they have a family based agreement, compared to 15.4% of those using a statutory agreement – with those arranging it themselves stating fees as one of the main reasons why. Troublingly, 40.4% do not have any sort of agreement in place.

The survey also highlighted another interesting point, that when it comes to contact between ex-partners, 70.4% of male respondents claimed they are not on speaking terms, while 53.2% of female respondents believed they were.

“The mother [or other parent] in this sort of situation can always demand more money, if she thinks the child needs more or if she thinks you’re earning a higher wage – which is fair enough – but it’s frustrating,” said Craig. “You need to send four recent wage slips to prove how much you’re earning.”

Many fathers believe the court process is very one sided, with some dads claiming their rights are being violated by unfair decisions and some have even gone so far as to campaign this issue.

However, in an attempt to prove the system is a fair one for fathers, a study into the court system and dads winning custody of their children was conducted by Dr Maebh Harding, from the School of Law at Warwick University. It concluded that while most cases were positively resolved there was an element of those judging the issue not considering what was necessarily best for the child when it came to equal care.

Dr Harding said: “Whilst it’s true mothers were usually the primary care giver in contact applications, this was simply a reflection of the social reality that women are more likely to take on the role after a relationship breakdown.

“Although the overall number of residence orders made for mothers was higher than those made for fathers, this was because a large number of such orders were made for mothers as respondents in cases where the father sought contact.”

In response, Glen Poole, a journalist who regularly writes about men’s issues, penned a piece for the Telegraph on the study and believes that its positive conclusion is misconstrued and doesn’t paint a true picture of the court system for fathers. Interestingly, he also states that in 96% of cases it is the father applying for access and in just under half of these the father is granted the right to have their child stay overnight.

Every access case and separation is different and we must do everything in our power to ensure children have everything they need, whether that means paying a certain amount each month or both parents seeing the child.

PayPlan has created a calculator which helps you decide what child maintenance arrangement might be best for you. It takes into consideration statutory based arrangement and family based arrangement and makes a recommendation based on your circumstances.

*Names have been changed to protect identities