Four Corners - Costing the Children

Charlotte and her three young children scrape by on welfare. The only child support she’s had from her estranged husband is a princely, one-off, $5. Paul has no car and no assets and lives in a rented room. He has a job but he is mired in debt because of the payments he makes for two children, one of whom he has never even seen.
A custodial mother and a non-custodial father, two troubled cases at either end of an emotion-charged regime that runs the lives of hundreds of thousands of Australian households, and more than a million children.
On one side are "resident" parents, usually mothers, who should be receiving regular child support payments from their ex-spouses. But many get as little as $5 a week – or nothing at all. On the other side, flexing newfound political muscle, are absent parents, overwhelmingly dads, many of them resentful about funding an ex-spouse’s new lifestyle at the expense of their own.
In the most intractable battles, the fathers’ weapon is to withhold money from mothers; the mothers’ is to withhold access. In the middle are the children. The referee is the Child Support Agency which supervises the payment of more than $2 billion a year from payer parents to payees.
For years, politicians have been flooded with complaints from carer mothers who aren’t getting what they’re owed and, increasingly, from men who are frustrated that hefty child support payments don’t guarantee access to the children of their first marriage – and leave them with too little to support the children in their second.
Now it’s decision time for the government, as it contemplates a special Task Force report which recommends radical changes to the child support system - changes that inevitably will please some groups but infuriate others. With reform imminent, Four Corners examines what is wrong with Australia’s child support system.

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