On the 25th of May 2017 33-year-old hospital worker Emma Day went to collect her six-year-old daughter from school. Unbeknownst to her, the child’s father, Mark Morris, was waiting for her outside the gates of the school, armed with a kitchen knife.
A confrontation occurred, and Morris stabbed Ms Day multiple times, slashing her neck and puncturing her heart and lung. Ms Day died of her injuries.
And what had led to this awful scenario?
Simple: Nine days earlier Ms Day had applied to the Child Maintenance Service (‘CMS’) for child maintenance from Morris. Morris had repeatedly threatened to kill Ms Day if she did not cancel the claim, and on that tragic day he carried out his threat.
Sadly, the dangers that parents face when seeking child maintenance from abusive former partners are well known. It is therefore very welcome that the Department for Work and Pensions, which is responsible for the CMS, has announced new measures to protect parents in such a situation.
Before going through the new measures, we need to briefly explain the two services that the CMS offers: ‘Direct Pay’ and ‘Collect and Pay’.
Under ‘Direct Pay’ the CMS calculates the amount of maintenance that should be paid, and parents make their own arrangements for payments. Direct Pay can be chosen by either parent with the other’s agreement. A £20 application fee is charged for this service (unless waived because of a domestic abuse issue).
Neither parent pays collection fees under Direct Pay.
Under ‘Collect and Pay’ the CMS calculates the amount of maintenance, then collects the payment from the paying parent and pays it to the receiving parent. There are ongoing collection charges for use of this service, payable by both the paying parent (20% on top of the maintenance amount), and the receiving parent (4% taken out of the amount of maintenance). Collect & Pay is generally used in circumstances such as where the paying parent has failed to pay maintenance, or failed to keep to a Direct Pay arrangement, or where one parent does not want the other to know their personal details.
It has been found that the Direct Pay service has been used as a form of coercion and control by abusers. Half of new Direct Pay arrangements are either not sustained or are ineffective, and parents often fail to report non-payment to the CMS, to avoid causing an issue with the paying parent.
Under the new measures survivors of domestic abuse will be given the choice to allow the CMS to move the case into the Collect and Pay service, without the consent of the abusive ex-partner. This will not just prevent abusers from using child maintenance as a form of ongoing financial abuse and control – it will also mean that survivors will not have to have contact with their ex-partner if there is evidence of domestic abuse.
A Bill is currently going through parliament to amend legislation to refuse access to Direct Pay where one parent objects to it on the grounds of domestic abuse, and where evidence of domestic abuse can be provided.
Under other new measures the CMS will have new powers to report suspected cases of financial coercion to the Crown Prosecution Service to help bring abusers to justice, one-to-one support for survivors will be piloted, and domestic abuse training for CMS staff will be improved.
If you are the victim of abuse from a partner or former partner, there are steps you can take to obtain protection, including obtaining an injunction to stop them from molesting you and, if necessary, a court order requiring them to vacate, or stay away from, your home.
We can help you obtain these protections. For further information, please see our page on domestic abuse.
Ian Walker Family Law & Mediation Solicitors are award-winning family solicitors and are recognised as one of the leading family law firms in the South West of England with services covering family law & mediation, divorce, child law, and arbitration. For expert advice, please contact the team.