There are 218,817 lone parent families living in Ireland. The proportion is among the highest in Europe. The most recent figures from the CSO’s Survey on Income and Living Conditions shows the at-risk-of-poverty rate among lone parents is 39.9% and that there is a deprivation rate of 44.5%. Lone parent families are five times more likely to be living in consistent poverty by comparison with two-parent families. Poverty among lone parents with a job doubled between 2012 and 2017. So much for being in a job. While work might pay, it has not paid for lone parents.

A woman who contacted me said she is just living on her nerves from day to day. She has been divorced for nine years and has been in and out of court with her ex-partner trying to sort maintenance. He has a court order. When the two leave the court, he will not pay until the next court date. The woman has sought help from Deputies. We cannot give her any because there is nothing legally requiring the partner to pay the maintenance, even with a court order.

In March 2017, the United Nations made a number of recommendations to Ireland. One recommendation was to consider establishing a statutory maintenance authority and prescribing amounts for child maintenance to reduce the burden on women of having to litigate to seek child maintenance orders. The Joint Committee on Social Protection produced a report on the position of parents in Ireland in 2017. Chapter 4, which covers maintenance, states:

– (4.2) Ireland has no state agency with responsibility for child maintenance payments
– (4.3) Parents are forced to seek payments through an adversarial and costly court system.
– (4.4) Maintenance, when obtained, is deducted at a rate of 100% from rent supplement and 50% from other social welfare payments
– (4.5) Lone parents in receipt of OFP are required to seek maintenance from the second parent
– (4.6) In Ireland, 35% of lone parents are in receipt of child maintenance payments
– (4.7) In other jurisdictions such as Sweden, New Zealand and Canada, the state is involved in facilitating the transfer of maintenance to parents
– (4.8) In Sweden, if the parent fails to or cannot pay maintenance, the state provides the payment and recoups the money from the liable parent subject to their ability to pay

The report recommends:
– (7.18) No lone parent should ever have their Social Protection payment threatened or reduced due to non-receipt of maintenance from a third party e.g. a former spouse. The obligation to pursue the liable adult should be removed from the lone parent.
– (7.19) A state body, similar to that in other countries, should be put in place to appropriately seek and pursue maintenance payments.

The Minister recommended the development of the child maintenance agency on 15 February 2018. It is now a year and a half later. There is a need for urgency. I understand from SPARK-Ireland that the budgetary funding for research has been allocated. The motion calls on the Government to fund research and establish, based on the research and including the stakeholders, a statutory child maintenance service with sufficient enforcement powers and links to the Revenue Commissioners.

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