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Child Maintenance Payments

Volume 597: debated on Monday 22 June 2015

9. What arrangements are in place to prevent child maintenance payments from increasing when a parent is prevented from spending time with their child by the recipient of the payments. (900448)

The issue of contact with children and that of the calculation of child maintenance, although related, are separate. In the calculation, we will reflect the level of care that a parent provides for any child for whom he or she should pay maintenance, but we have no power to direct what the level of care should be. That is a matter for the parents to agree either privately or through the courts.

I asked the question on behalf of a constituent, but obviously many others will be in the same situation. I do not agree that there is no link, because it clearly states on the Child Support Agency website that if someone spends less time with their children, they will pay more in child maintenance. Some people spend less time with their children because, through no fault of their own and with no suggestion of any detriment to the children if they were to see them, the partner prevents that from happening. Will the Minister examine this and stop punishing parents twice over?

Child contact following the separation of two parents is always a difficult and emotive issue, and the child’s needs must be met by both parents, in terms of financial support, when they separate. We are investing in support for parents to help them make more family-based child maintenance arrangements, and we will continue to help and secure separated families so that they can do what is in the best interests of their child. The hon. Lady mentioned that she has a particular case, and I am happy to look into it.

The Minister rightly said that contact and payment are separate issues. In most cases it is right that a child stays in contact with both parents if they are no longer living together, but I wish to press her on something: it cannot be right that a payment should be linked to a right to see that child.

My right hon. Friend makes a valid point. As I said, we know that this is an emotive issue for separating parents, and much of it is arbitrated in the courts system. It is all about balance in terms of parental support and parental access. Access is a matter for the courts, not for the Department for Work and Pensions. As I have said, we as a Department and as a Government are already investing in support for parents to make the right kind of arrangements. We will continue to do so and help separated families so that they can do what is in the best interests of their child.