Child maintenance and the self-employed ex

Child maintenance is regular, reliable financial support that helps towards a child’s everyday living costs. The parent who doesn’t have main day-to-day care of the child pays child maintenance to the parent who does.

I’ve been a single parent for 11 years this summer. My ex has been a single parent for 11 years this summer. They were four and one when we split up. I was a stay-at home-parent and I found a flexible part-time job to pay the mortgage on our new two-bed terrace, bills, food, hair cuts, school uniform, school shoes (how quickly they grow), never-ending school trips, clothes, food. Usual family stuff.

My ex was a train driver and he paid £350 a month child maintenance (20% of his then wage) and when he lost his job about a year after we split up in 2007 – it went to zero.  I was earning 16K. I have always been very grateful to have my job, any parent knows scheduling work around children is tricky, my job was (is) brilliant. My employer was (and still is) sympathetic and the hours suited us. I’m full-time now but worked around the school run to avoid horrendous child-care costs for breakfast and after school club, and to be there for my girls. I loved doing the school run, that was my choice. It wasn’t as easy as “get a higher paid job” or “work more hours”. I made a choice to drop and collect them from school every day. I have no regrets about being there for my children, but it has been a financial struggle at times.

Their dad didn’t get another job, he went to art school instead to study photography for about three years in his mid-40s and paid nothing towards his two children. Students are exempt from paying, so he didn’t. He had a lodger, started up a photography website and did some gardening on the side to earn money.  When he moved in with his girlfriend (now his wife) he rented out his converted mill two-bed apartment in Trowse, Norfolk. For a while he paid £100 a month. Some months he wouldn’t pay. It was never reliable and stopped abruptly one month. For the past five or six years it’s dwindled to almost nothing. Always minimum. He takes our girls on holiday and buys them expensive bikes to have at his house. He spends money on them when they are with him, he just doesn’t pay into the system, or give me money for them.

Last year he paid £20 a month.  He has a gardening business now, a wedding photography business,  a classic car he hires out for weddings, lives in a six-bedroom house, owns several cars and has around four holidays a year (I’m informed of dates he can’t have the girls due to going away).

But could only afford £10 per child a month. Because that’s what his tax returns say.

The girls are 15 and 12 now, they live with me during the week and have four nights a month with him (holidays are flexible). This has been our arrangement for about five years when he moved away.

I am so grateful for people like journalist Polly Toynbee and Janet Allbeson and Emma Yorke from Gingerbread for raising the profile of my situation.  I found their articles online and they gave me hope. The law should be changed to protect children in situations like mine.

Last year I had a letter from the CMS (a system that cost me £20 to register) saying the amount would be changing and he’d be paying £180 a month based on his estimated earning of around 10K – amazing. £180! I was floored and delighted I’d have some real financial support for the girls for the first time in years, but he disputed it, he’d bought a Land Rover for his gardening work for £7K, put it towards his business, so legally could say he earned £3K, reality was he earned his 10K. Morally I don’t know how he justifies it to himself, friends, family, maybe the topic of child maintenance doesn’t come up. Most people are shocked when I tell them what he pays monthly. I almost accept it as the norm now, but why should I? This is why I am writing. I don’t even know what this will do. I am tired of feeling helpless and I think my children deserve better.

There should be accountability from the self-employed non-resident ex. They should be able to prove it. List of clients, tally of regular jobs, if it’s clear from a glance at the address that the non-resident parent could pay more than £20 a month, why don’t they question it?

So I’m going to start fighting for them. Even by sharing my story.

This year the letter from the CMS states that he earned around 4K last year and although I asked them to double check this amount it came to nothing. He can stay quiet for another year – the loophole of doing nothing, they accept what he’s told HMRC. He’s paying £30 a month this year. He’s on holiday as I write this. Next weekend he’ll be at Latitude. For the first two weeks of August he’s in France with my children, his partner, and her two children. His step-children go to private school. He can afford big family holidays, I can’t. I worry every time my children bring home a letter from high school asking for funds for another school trip or when they want a hair cut or need new underwear. Basic essentials.

I know I am not alone, there are lots of families like mine, with an ex who is involved but doesn’t want to pay child maintenance, despite it being the law. And knowing it would make life easier for his children. The children we had together that I have full financial responsibility for.

I’m not trying to bankrupt him. The only thing I ask for is an equal or fair amount of financial support for the children. Why should one parent pay everything for the children when the other parent pays £20 a month without having to prove it is really all they can afford?

Why is that fair?

Inspirational links:
Never forget: half of absent fathers pay nothing towards raising their children – Polly Toynbee
Why the silence on the scandal of unpaid child maintenance? – Polly Toynbee
Loopholes in the child maintenance system mean children are going without – Emma Yorke on Mumsnet
Exploitable loopholes: how the self-employed non-resident status can be a route to child maintenance evasion – Janet Allbeson, Gingerbread

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