Dads the victims of child support laws? Give me a break
IN the past few weeks we've seen two stories about the child support system, both highly emotive and both full of alarming claims and heartbreaking stories about "good dads" being punished by an unfair system.
Men were being forced into poverty by unreasonably high levels of child support, we were told.
Some were homeless, or living in their cars. Others were being "threatened" by shadowy, sinister figures from the Child Support Agency that they wouldn't be able to see their kids if they didn't pay up.
This would be terrible, if it were true.
But as a single mum - and someone capable of performing a basic internet search - I'm here to call BS on these stories. About the only thing they got right is that the child support system is badly broken and needs a complete overhaul.
Let's start with some basic facts. Like the fact that most recent figures from the Australian Government Department of Human Services shows $1.53 billion is outstanding in child support in Australia... $1.53 BILLION... Let that sink in for a minute.
As 86 per cent of child support recipients are female, the overwhelming majority of this huge debt is owed by dads.
And this is only the amount we know about. More than half of all child support is paid privately, not through the CSA, so it's likely the true figure will be much, much higher.
Here's another fact. According to the most recent parliamentary inquiry into child support, 36 per cent of child support transferred by the CSA in 2014 was $500 or less, per year. Usually it was just over $1 a day.
Around 272,000 parents are asked to pay this pitiful amount. And of them, around 60,000 were in arrears.
In other words, there are around 60,000 parents (and again, most of them are men) who won't even cough up a dollar a day to support their own kids.
Now that is disgraceful.
As for the "threats" from Child Support Agency, the reality is that staff at that agency have no say over parental custody arrangements. Zero. Zilch. They can't tell mums to withhold visitation rights for unpaid child support. They simply don't have that power.
Want some more facts?
When the child support system was introduced in 1988 the minimum weekly payment was $5. Now it's a princely $7.
Child support reforms introduced by the Howard Government means resident parents are now getting around $70 million a year less in support. At the same time, poverty in single parent households has increased by 15 per cent.
Studies by academics have shown that around a quarter of paying dads never pay their child support on time and in full.
A study by NATSEM found that one in five newly divorced mothers report they can't afford spending on the kids such as school clothing, leisure activities or school trips. This compares with only one in 50 newly divorced fathers.
Faced with these facts, it's hard to understand why the public perception of single mums living a life of luxury on the gravy train of child support has taken hold in our collective imagination.
Then there's the other common view: that single mums should be grateful for getting any child support at all.
If I had a dollar for every time someone said that to me, I'd be able to afford my first haircut in six months.It's infuriating. No one would ever tell a married woman she was lucky her husband spent money on the kids. Why should single dads get a hero's reception for fulfilling one of the most basic responsibilities of parenthood?
Since becoming a single mum I've met, in person and online, hundreds of other single mums. Most of us are employed, fulltime or part-time, and working damn hard to balance our careers with being the primary carers for our kids.
Our circumstances are unique yet we're all united on one thing - our children come first. We'll happily miss out so our kids don't have to. We live up to society's expectations that a mother provides for her children because we understand and accept that responsibility. Why can't society expect the same of the fathers?
And as for the poor men being "tricked" in to fatherhood, might I suggest a return to sex education classes?
Surely the most important thing in all this is that the 1.1 million children of separated parents in Australia get the same opportunities and the same chances in life as other kids. We're not talking private school or overseas holidays here, but far more basic opportunities. An extra-curricular activity. New clothes occasionally rather than always relying on hand-me-downs. The devices that schools ask you to bring in yourself. A bedroom separate from their parent's.
And sorry, but that costs money.
Because you know what really struck me about these stories? There was barely a mention of the kids involved. You know, those kids who grow and grow, who need school uniforms and swimming lessons, who need a roof over their heads, clothes on their backs, and food in their bellies?
Those kids are of course loved by their parents. But they don't live on fresh air. And it's the responsibility of BOTH parents to make sure their kids don't go without.
Lisa Miller is a single mum of one who helps run Inner West Single Mums Facebook group. Her partner fulfils his child support obligations.