The Child Maintenance and Enforcement Commission has begun using tough new powers to halt or reverse the sale and transfer of assets by parents attempting to dodge financial responsibility for their children.
In the first case of its kind, a father in the northwest of England has been prevented from selling a house he was advertising on a popular property website. The man, who cannot be named for legal reasons, owes over £78,000 in unpaid maintenance. He has paid nothing to his former partner for almost twelve years while failing to respond to letters or phone calls from the Child Support Agency - now part of the Commission.
The Commission applied for a 'freezing order' after the man put his house on the market, raising fears he would try to put the proceeds beyond the Agency's reach. The particulars of sale for the four-bedroom property boasted of numerous costly improvements, including a luxury fitted kitchen and home cinema. It noted there was "no chain" to hold up a quick sale.
The High Court granted the order, which prevents the man from selling the property.
In addition to freezing orders, the court also has the power to grant 'setting aside orders', which reverse the sale/transfer of property to stop parents putting assets in the names of new partners or relatives, and 'lump sum deduction orders', which force banks to hand over money held in the accounts of indebted parents.
Chair of the Child Maintenance Commission Janet Paraskeva said:
"This case sends a clear message to all parents who have run up substantial maintenance arrears.
"Step-by-step the Commission is closing the escape routes for parents who think they can cheat their children out of money from which they are entitled to benefit. No longer can houses, cars and other valuable assets be sold off quickly to prevent the CSA taking possession of them. Those who cynically transfer the legal ownership of property into the names of their new partners risk having those transactions reversed."
James Pirrie, Chair of the Child Maintenance Committee of Resolution, the family lawyers' association, added his backing to the new measures:
"The sooner people realise that payment of their child maintenance obligations is non-negotiable the better. Everyone can then focus on making sure that the calculation of how much has to be paid is accurate and appropriate."
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