Parents will be held accountable

Minister of Family Stephen Lashley

Delinquent parents owing child maintenance should not breath a sigh of relief following Government’s establishment of a special fund to ensure their offspring do not suffer.

Minister of Family Stephen Lashley said the new $400,000 facility, which will provide $50 weekly in individual cases of need, did not mean fathers and mothers were free to continue increasing their arrears via the magistrates court.

Speaking while piloting the related supplementary resolution in the House of Assembly this morning, the Christ Church West Central MP said Government would in fact be doing all it could to ensure the parents paid what they were suppose to.

“The overall intent is not to relieve parents of their obligations, but mechanisms will be pursued … within the context of available enforcement mechanisms to ensure that delinquent parents meet their obligations,” the minister stated.

“What we are saying is that we are not going to hold up providing mothers and single parents with that vital assistance while we are seeking to make those delinquent parents comply – we don’t see the two as being mutually exclusive.

Help for vulnerable

“What we are saying is that this fund is being provided with a view to assisting those parents who are vulnerable and those children, but delinquent parents will not get off scot-free. Measures will be put in place, and additional measures if necessary, to ensure that those arrears can be collected.”

Lashley said the new fund, first announced in the June Budget, would cater to parents, particularly single mothers, who for many years have had to “suffer the indignity of having maintenance payments for their children delayed for reasons and … purposes over which they have had no control”, where the obligated parent “would have become delinquent, particularly in relation to orders made at the level of the magistrates court”.

He noted the fund would be administered by the magistrates court, which dealt with the majority of maintenance orders, and that parents could apply three months after the date for which payment was due.

This meant that “once the order would have been abridged or flouted there is a three month period in which the application to access this fund through the magistrates court would be made”.

Fund access

“Applicants may access the fund for a period of four months, after which case their particular circumstances will be reviewed and in the case of need the applicant may be issued with a certificate for [an] additional four months, which means that there will be a review of the circumstances of each applicant after a period,” he explained.

“And of course the flexibility built into the system would entail the provision of a certificate for an additional four months and of course the system and the process will continue to be reviewed.

“If the defaulting parent has obtained employment during the four month period of review to which I have referred, then the parent must be ordered to reimbursed the fund while that parent was paying the current maintenance order.

“So this is not a fund designed … to create a double counting arrangement, it is designed to provide relief for those parents and in particular the mothers whose child maintenance has been delay, but certain safeguards will be built in to ensure that there is not a question of having your two bites at the cherry so to speak,” the Parliamentarian added.

Lashley also said while the Government assistance was provided, the existing maintenance order would be suspended “so as to avoid the accumulation of further arrears”.

“This fund will be revolving in nature, which means that of course upon review, where for example the fund is in need of topping up then of course it will be done in accordance with the mechanisms built into the fund and therefore it will revolve to ensure that there is always funds there for those vulnerable parents, and in particular those children,” he added. (SC)

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