As soon as it became obvious I was not returning to the marital home, I entered into a private maintenance arrangement with Sandra. This included a monthly monetary payment, arrangement to pay insurance policy premiums for the children. As Sandra still didn’t drive (although she was suppose to be taking her driving test twenty years earlier!), I also promised to transport the children whenever they needed lifts. As any parent of teenagers will know, this is quite expensive before any other outlay. Besides, arranging to do this gave me another excuse to see and spend time with my children. Sandra seemed happy with this arrangement and I never defaulted on any payments. When I left the church ministry, there was a three month period when I was not working and nor did I claim any form of benefit. However, with no income coming in I still ensured that I met this payment.
When I was a Church Minister Sandra knew what I was earning so did not have any issue with our private maintenance agreement. Without any prior discussion when Sandra learnt that I had been offered two jobs, she contacted the Child Support Agency(CSA).
It’s difficult as a man to be complimentary about the CSA. The first I knew about Sandra contacting them was when I received a strongly worded letter implying that I had failed my legal duty in not contributing anything towards Child Maintenance. The letter also issued an extremely short deadline for me to respond or otherwise face legal consequences. It was upsetting to receive such a letter as I had been very compliant as far as arrangements to the children were concerned.
I immediately telephoned the CSA and their telephone manner was completely different to their aggressive letters campaign. The case worker was very sympathising and talked me through the information they needed to make an assessment. She explained that if we had a private Maintenance Agreement that we both agreed on then the assessment would only serve as a guideline. She also told me that the assessment would also take into consideration the number of occasions that the children stayed overnight at my home. After talking to the CSA by telephone, I felt more comfortable about the situation.
The next time I collected the children, I attempted to speak to Sandra about the CSA and expressed my unhappiness that she had gone directly to them. It wasn’t as if I was a father neglecting his responsibilities. That weekend I drew up a new private arrangement offering Sandra an increased cash allowance, commitment to continue the transportation and insurance policies of the children. I also offered an additional arrangement whereby I would make arrangements to look after the children so that Sandra could attend the many residential courses that the church expected her to attend. Sandra initially agreed to this but reneged on this understanding when I produced a written copy and I asked her to sign it. She tore up the revised private maintenance plan.
As requested, I submitted all the information required to the CSA. They made their assessment and submitted their report to both Sandra and I. I felt even more victimised when I looked at the CSA figures. The compliant non -residential parent is hit hard. The deduction the CSA makes allowing for overnight stays amounted to a measly 50p per child per night. Absolutely scandalous! I wish I could look after them on that amount.
Sandra saw one big lump sum and decided that she wanted the suggested amount of money. I did try to reason and told her that I would pay the suggested amount but then I wouldn’t be able to afford all the add-ons on top of that. Rather than pay a monthly amount into Sandra’s bank account, Sandra now decided that she would collect child maintenance through the CSA. Again, this angered me. It wasn’t as if I had refused to contribute to the children’s upkeep. I was prepared to keep things civil and continue paying in the fashion that I had paid Sandra thus far.
I informed Sandra that by her choosing the non-negotiation route would make the situation awkward for everyone but Sandra had no intention in listening.
The next time I went to collect the children, Sandra came to the door and started speaking in a pleasant manner. By now I had learnt that the only time Sandra would face me when I picked-up the children would be when she wanted a favour. Usually when I called, she would stay out of sight and away from the front entrance of the house.
“Hi”, she said, “I have a course to go on which lasts a week and I wondered whether you can have the children so that I can go on it. After all, you did say that you would have the children so I can do this.” The cheek of the woman, she was being rather selective over what had been said. I remind Sandra that I had proposed such an arrangement which she’d refused preferring to receive 30 pieces of silver from the CSA. Furthermore, knowing Sandra to be the compulsive liar she is, I knew that I was now an easy excuse for her to use with her employers. I could hear her saying, “He said he’d have the children, but cancelled at last minute.” Still, nothing I can do about that. Hopefully others will see through her lies.
The Child Support Agency has a grossly unfair method of making maintenance calculations. Absent parents are victimised for living apart from their children. As you may know from this blog, I had no choice. The only absent parents that benefit from the CSA are those who are unemployed as the CSA will then make a ‘Nil’ assessment.