Angela Moores, head of the family law team and Rachel Marsden, solicitors, Ricksons. In February 2006 the government eventually had to acknowledge that the Child Support Agency (CSA) was simply not working and a new system for child support had to be designed. When Sir David Henshaw was asked to consult and come up with recommendation for a new system we watched in anticipation. In July 2006 his report Recovering child support: routes to responsibility(Cm 6894) was published.
The authors say that perhaps of most interest to family lawyers is the proposal that parents be able to choose to enter into consent orders for child support via the courts and for those orders to endure beyond the 12-month limitation that we currently face for orders made after 2003. It is thought around 10,000 consent orders a year are currently made for child support and the report considers that this route, together with variation and enforcement, should be available to those parents who can agree on child support. Once in the court system child support would forever stay within the system for that child with the likely incumbent costs for enforcement and variation. It is, however, unlikely that the jurisdiction will be available for those parents in dispute about child support - the reason being given to avoid increasing the burden on the court system - already an increase of between 15,000 and 25,000 cases each year is anticipated merely for consent orders.
The report is unclear as to whether the availability of a court order for child support is restricted to ancillary relief settlements, as might be anticipated. Reference is made in the report to cohabiting couples who separate being able to validate a private agreement for child support through the court route and to legal aid being available for those parents on low incomes to use the court route even when there are no other financial matters to be resolved. It is difficult to identify how this might happen or indeed prove cost effective when the new system is available. Clearly this is an area where greater clarification and consultation is going to be needed. See October  Fam Law 882 for the full article.