- January 19, 2024
- Posted by: Colm Hurley
- Category: News
In a recent review of the enforcement of child maintenance orders carried out by the Minister for Justice, non-payment of child maintenance leaving one parent with the full financial burden of raising the children, was highlighted as a common issue. In this article Karen Tobin, Partner gives an insight into the review and its recommendations.
Failing to pay child maintenance is a failure by a parent to support their child’s needs on a basic day to day level. If maintenance cannot be agreed between parents either directly or via mediation, then it results in an application to court for a maintenance order. Both parties must complete a statement of their financial affairs and a Judge will make an order determining the maintenance figure to be paid by a parent. Unfortunately, some parents choose not to pay the court ordered maintenance.
Currently, the only mechanism for enforcing court ordered maintenance is by way of an attachment of earnings order. This means that a maintenance payment can be deducted from the parent’s salary at source. However, this mechanism is only available when there is a pattern of default in maintenance payments. In addition, this does not apply to those who are self-employed or those on social welfare. It is also an issue when parents move employment.
Another option is to bring the matter back before the court for breach of a court order where the parent may be fined or imprisoned for breaching a court order. However, this does not provide security for future maintenance payments.
Both options have added legal costs for the financially supporting parent.
There are no set criteria for calculating child maintenance figures and the figure is calculated at the discretion of the court based on a person’s ability to pay and the needs of the child.
The review conducted has made some significant recommendations which include:
- Guidelines for setting child maintenance payments. The UK system allows for a maintenance calculator which gives guidance as to what they can expect to pay/receive by way of a maintenance payment. The review recommends a similar system is developed in Ireland which will give certainty to both parents as to what the likely maintenance figure to be paid is. This is also likely to alleviate the need for unnecessary court applications.
- A broader scope for attachment of earnings orders. It is recommended that an order can be attached to a persons PPS number to ensure there is no lapse of payment in circumstances where a person changes employer.
- Deductions from other sources. It is recommended that payments can be deducted from government grants, bank accounts, subsidies and tax refunds. It is also recommended that there be provisions for charges on properties and freezing of assets.
- Deductions from Social Welfare. It is recommended that deductions to be made from social welfare payments at source such as Job Seeker Benefit etc.
- Awards of Legal Costs. The legal cost of any applications made by a party to court seeking enforcement of maintenance orders to be paid by the defaulting party.
Non-payment of child maintenance is a common problem and as highlighted by the Minister, the current enforcement options available are limited in scope and impact. If these recommendations are to be implemented, it will provide greater security for the payment of maintenance. There should also be a reduction in the number of applications before the court and will give greater powers to the courts to ensure that maintenance orders are complied with.