Academic journal article Journal of Family Studies

Merged or Omitted? What We Know (or Don't) about Separated Mothers Who Pay or Should Pay Child Support in Australia

Academic journal article Journal of Family Studies

Merged or Omitted? What We Know (or Don't) about Separated Mothers Who Pay or Should Pay Child Support in Australia

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

A rapidly changing landscape in the care arrangements of children means that new conceptual lenses are required to understand the many ways in which children are--or are not--supported following parental separation. While research into non-resident fathers has intensified in recent years, studies of non-resident mothers remain in the margins. This article brings to the fore discussions about non-resident mothers and money. It collates the small amount of research in Australia on non-resident mothers and women who pay child support, refers to relevant international studies, and suggests what further research is required. My hope is that this article will stimulate thought and act as a catalyst for more focused work on the potentially complex interactions between gender and post-separation parenting.

Keywords: non-custodial mothers; non-resident parents; child support; compliance; enforcement; divorce; children

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Child support research tends to focus on two groups--payers and receivers--often referred to as non-resident and resident parents (1) Studies that refer to non-resident parents or paying parents are in most cases referring only to fathers. This is because children generally live with their mother after separation, though change is afoot. Female payers are either omitted from the analysis or, if included, findings are not disaggregated by gender. As a result, what we know about child support payment in Australia is predominately based on mothers' reports of payments received from fathers; some research draws on fathers' reports of payments made to mothers or received from mothers; and almost nothing has been published on mothers' reports of payments made to fathers.

Not every parent who should pay child support does in fact pay. Policy responses to non compliance are based on men paying and women receiving. This one-sided approach to compliance renders female payers invisible. As Kielty pointed out: 'The failure to consider parental role reversal and the experiences of non-resident mothers implies that, with regard to the 'workability' of post-divorce parenting arrangements, parental gender is not considered to be pertinent' (Kielty, 2005, p. 14). This article (a) collates the small amount of empirical research in Australia on non-resident mothers and women who pay child support, (b) refers to relevant international studies, and (c) explains why and what further research is required.

1. WHO HAS TO PAY CHILD SUPPORT?

In Australia, the Child Support Agency (CSA) administers the Child Support Scheme (CSS). In the majority of cases, child support is based on an administrative assessment (i.e., a formula used for assessment by the CSA). The (new) formula in operation since July 2008 is based on an 'income shares' model and uses both parents' incomes (after deduction of a self-support amount) and their level of care to determine the amount payable. In the 'typical' situation, where children are largely in the care of one parent (sole care), the other parent is liable to pay an assessed amount of child support. This payment can be collected by CSA (CSA Collect) or transferred privately between the parents themselves (Private Collect). More than half of CSA cases are transferred privately between parents (Child Support Agency [CSA], 2009, p. 31).

The resident/non-resident parent dichotomy is increasingly less accurate or useful in determining who is a potential payer of child support. In 11% of child support cases, the care arrangement is other than sole (defined as where children are in the care of one of the parents for 70% or more nights each year). Both the percentage and numbers of cases that are not sole care are increasing (CSA, 2009, p. 25) (2). If newly registered cases are considered rather than all cases, 17 % involve shared care (Smyth, 2009, p. 41). If all the children of the relationship are not in the sole care of one parent, both parents can potentially be the paying parent and the liabilities are offset against each other. …

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