Does the public support the current system?
The child maintenance system in Britain has evolved considerably over the three decades during which the British Social Attitudes survey has measured attitudes on this topic. This chapter analyses how far public preferences reflect the current policy position and the extent to which they vary among different sections of society.
Broad support for payment of child maintenance
A clear majority support the payment of child maintenance by the non-resident parent although views vary regarding how separated families should agree this.
- 83% think that, when a couple with a child under 18 split up, the non-resident father should always make maintenance payments to support the child.
- 42% think the best approach is for separated parents to agree child maintenance arrangements between themselves. And 25% think this should be done with the help of a government agency.
Many think family circumstances should affect arrangements
Views regarding the payment of child maintenance vary according to the particular circumstances of separated families, including parents’ incomes, the presence of new partners or children, and the level of contact between the non-resident parent and the child(ren). More than half express views that do not align with certain elements of the current system, although there are signs public preferences have aligned with current policy.
- 64% think the amount of maintenance a non-resident father pays should depend on the income of the mother with care (this is not currently the case). However, this proportion has declined by 10 percentage points since 2010.
- When a mother and her child(ren) move in with a new partner, 60% think the non-resident father should continue to make maintenance payments (this is currently required, at the same level as before). 37% supported this in 1994 (when the system did not require this).
- Fewer than half (45%) think that child maintenance arrangements should not be affected, if a mother does not allow a non-resident father to have contact with their child (child maintenance arrangements are not currently affected if the resident parent has prohibited the child’s contact with the non-resident parent).
Men, women and those living with children have distinct views
Views about child maintenance vary between men and women and depend on whether someone lives with children. Women are more sympathetic to the situations of mothers, and men to those of fathers. Those living with children tend to favour a requirement to pay child maintenance.
- 67% of women think that maintenance payments from the father should continue when a mother with care moves in with a new partner, compared with 51% of men.
- Men are less likely than women to think that child maintenance payments should continue if the father has a child with someone else (72% think this, compared with 81% of women).
- Those living with children are more likely to say that maintenance payments should continue if the mother moves in with a new partner (67%, compared with 56% of those not living with children).
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