David Burrows, Solicitor Advocate. The child support scheme has thrown up a judicial system which is confusing for lawyers familiar with it; but for the layman, for which it is designed (Legal Aid is rarely available for child support proceedings) it must be the stuff of severe anxiety, outright confusion and many sleepless nights. While the Government is amending the scheme of calculation and enforcement of child maintenance (see the child support White Paper, A new system of child maintenance, Cm 6979, (Department of Work and Pensions, 2006)), the extent to which the child support scheme needs an effective and fair judicial and appeals system must be addressed also.
There is a clear need for reform of the current system, which is overly complicated. The existing appeals system under the Child Support Act 1991 to the appeals tribunals has relied almost entirely on a system which was originally set up to deal with social security benefits. This appeals system and the wider adjudicative aspects of the scheme, means that six or seven different courts and tribunals, all with their different rules or regulations, are involved with the process. It has still not been fully resolved to what extent it is the responsibility of the state backed by a system of administrative law whether on behalf of children, their carer parent or the tax-payer to enforce payments of child support maintenance or whether the appropriate system would be one based in a discretion-based private law system, such as that operated by our family courts.
This article takes a critical look at the current system and identifies key considerations which should underlie any reform. To read the full discussion of this important issue for family law practitioners see March  Fam Law.