The enforcement of child maintenance payments has always been a thorny legal issue. It’s a challenge faced by legal systems across the world. Some have gone as far as making non-custodial parents serve jail time for non-payment of maintenance, which has only worsened the financial circumstances of both parties involved: the non-payer suffers loss of earnings (and, in some cases, can lose their job), while the custodial parent is even less likely to receive adequate maintenance payments.

Stay at home parents that work

Now, in the US, judges in Wake County, North Carolina, have taken steps to ensure that those parents who fall behind with their maintenance payments can still work by placing them under house arrest, instead of doing time in jail. The individuals involved are tagged electronically and only allowed to leave their homes for purposes of work or medical care.

So far the scheme seems to be working. After all, most parents want to support their children, yet separation or divorce can put these individuals under such financial stress that they fall behind with maintenance, if even only in the short term. A jail sentence can seriously compound the problem, resulting in undesirable consequences for both parties.

Loss of freedom Vs loss of earnings

The question is: would it work in the UK? Certainly, the finer details of the scheme would have to be examined, such as the individual’s ability to pay, how far behind they were with maintenance and how it would impact on the type of work they did. Then, of course, there are the ethical considerations. Is it right to ‘label’ someone as a non-payer through the use of an electronic tag and take away their personal freedom even if that individual is making a concerted effort to provide financially for the children? The scheme certainly has some merit for those who are actively avoiding their financial obligations, but it’s questionable for people with genuine financial difficulties.

 

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