Parliamentary Inquiry into the Child Support Program
This submission responds to the Parliamentary Inquiry into the Child Support Program being undertaken by the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Social Policy and Legal Affairs. Although important, Child Support is not the primary concern for many of our clients who are primarily concerned about how to work out safe children’s arrangements post-separation with the other parent when there has been domestic violence and/or child abuse. The Child Support Program can often be a conduit for perpetrators to continue their abuse.
This submission sets out to demystify incorrect claims and assumptions that further perpetuate violence against women and puts forth the following recommendations in order achieve safer outcomes for women and children who have been subjected to violence and need to navigate through the Child Support Program:
- That the best interests of the child be the paramount consideration in child support legislation.
- That the child becomes the primary "client" of child support.
- That child support policy and literature reflect this understanding.
- The child support policy distinguish between those families that have experienced domestic violence and those families who are 'high conflict’.
- That the definition of high conflict specifically exclude matters involving domestic violence or abuse.
- That child support policy and practice reflect the following reality:
- financial abuse is a common feature of domestic violence; and
- that child support is a key platform where ongoing abuse can be perpetrated against victims and children.
- That a special pathway be developed for cases involving domestic violence and specifically cover matters where the victim of violence is both the payee and payer.
- That the pathway be developed following standards of international best practice and in consultation with specialists in domestic violence who have expertise working with victims of violence (including WLSA representatives) and perpetrators of violence, () and that the pathway include (for example):
- That the safety of victims of violence and children be the priority in these cases;
- That a permanent case worker be appointed with specialised training and who can provide consistent decision-making in the case;
- That in this pathway particular regard should be given to the amount of information that is released to the other parent because its release could have safety ramifications for the victim of violence and their children;
- That consideration be given to referring the cases to a specialist model of mediation that has been developed specifically for matters involving domestic violence (eg Coordinated Family Dispute Resolution model);
- In the alternative, these mediations be lawyer assisted;
- That exemptions from private collections be specifically considered because forcing victims to directly negotiate with the perpetrator will rarely result in fair outcomes for children and at its worst, can be dangerous;
- That consideration be given at an earlier point than other cases not involving violence about a referral to an adjudicated decision; and
- That these cases be closely monitored for systems abuse.
- That a domestic violence screening tool be developed for the Child Support Program.
- That all Child Support Program staff be trained in screening for and identifying domestic violence and that the trainers have clinical experience in working with victims and perpetrators of domestic violence (following standards of international best practice).
- That any alternative dispute resolution processes developed or already in place should not take place without appropriate financial disclosure.
- That specific consideration should be given to improving the mechanisms currently in place about providing information to prisoners (including women prisoners) about applying for an exemption from child support payment during their prison term and that specific consideration be given to violent offenders (including those who have offended against children) from accumulating child support debt and using this as a means to have further contact with the family post-release by commencing proceedings to dismiss the debt.
- That the Child Support Program consider other strategies operating in other jurisdictions such as Canada to incentivize payment and to avoid accrual of arrears.
- That consideration be given to the New Zealand approach where payment of child support is paid to a government and consistency of payment is assured because the government 'tops up' even when the payee fails to make payment. This ensures that a stable and reliable income source is provided to the family and that the children are not disadvantaged. Pursuing arrears clearly becomes the responsibility of the government agency.
- That specific consideration be given to assist fair payment of child support when the payer is self-employed or owns their own business.
- That given the intersection of poverty, gender, violence against women and issues of financial abuse and control through the Child Support system, each Women's Legal Service be specifically funded for a child support lawyer.
- That a broad based empirical study be conducted into the financial outcomes of men and women post separation in Australia.
Below is a list of supporting documents for this submission.
|WLSA Child Support Commission||http://www.wlsa.org.au/uploads/submission-resources/__name/WLSA_Child_Support_Submission.pdf (http://www.wlsa.org.au/uploads/submission-resources/__size/WLSA_Child_Support_Submission.pdf, http://www.wlsa.org.au/uploads/submission-resources/__extension/WLSA_Child_Support_Submission.pdf)|