An Australian MP has called for more scrutiny of how child-support payments are spent. Divorced father Paul Veron says the British system needs a similar examination
—This is article #17 in our series of #100Voices4Men and boys
A woman MP in Australia is pressing for a change that millions of men in the West should welcome.
Michelle Rowland, Labor MP for Greenway in Western Sydney, is urging a parliamentary inquiry examining the child support system to consider whether separated parents should be required to provide proof of how they spend the money which they receive from the other parent for child support.
“Many parents feel as though their child support is going toward items which provide no direct benefit to their children [but instead] towards expenses which help maintain their former partner’s lifestyle,” Ms Rowland said.
That was exactly my position for years when I was paying hundreds of pounds a month to my ex-wife to support our teenage son; and, though she was a chronic alcoholic spending much of the money on drink, I couldn‘t get any support or interest from Britain’s shambolic and woman-centred family law system.
When my wife and I separated, she immediately went to lawyers and portrayed herself as a helpless little woman in need of protection from a wicked, powerful man. Behind that tearful, vulnerable front, however, she was resolutely determined to use the legal system to punish me and to extract from me every penny she could get. None of my requests for conciliation was allowed. I had always been devoted to our son and actively wanted to support him. I didn’t need judges and the Child Support Agency to tell me my duties towards my child; but the legal system does not recognise a loving father any more than it admits the possibility that a mother might be deceitful and manipulative. Black and white are the only shades it knows. Woman good: man bad.
My ex-wife spent the child support on drink
From the earliest stages of our prolonged, ruinous legal wars, I tried to express concern about my ex-wife’s drinking, which had been one of the main reasons our marriage failed. Nobody took me seriously, not even my own lawyers. She told everybody that I was maliciously inventing these allegations to malign her and to try to wrest our son out of her custody. Naturally, when a woman makes it look as if she is being impugned, every chivalrous instinct rises to shield her. A father has no chance when those defences are called into play.
My ex-wife also appropriated our son’s emotional commitment, making him her chief supporter and aide. In that tortuous position, he found it impossible to reconcile the love that had always been strong between us and he cut off all connection between us. From the age of 12 until he was almost 15, I never saw his face or heard his voice.
Apart from being an indescribably painful ordeal, that estrangement also meant that I had no way of knowing whether he was actually receiving any benefit from the money I was paying for his support. I was simply lobbing bundles of cash over the battlements behind which he was cut off from me. I strongly suspected she would be spending the money on drink, but nobody would listen.
When my son ran away, my fears were confirmed
At one point, I decided to pay the monthly amount in gift tokens from department stores and outfitters to try to ensure that he would get material benefit from the money – clothes and school equipment and such. My own lawyers instructed me to stop that – telling me that the court had ordered the support to be paid in cash and that they would not defend me if my ex-wife took it to court.
When my son eventually ran away from his mother, just after his 15th birthday, all my most terrible fears were confirmed.
I then discovered that his mother had been spending so much on drink that, very often, there had actually been nothing at all in the house for my son to eat. At 6’3”, he weighed little more than 10 stones and was visibly underfed, with a vitamin deficiency showing in white spots on his fingernails. He had no winter coat, one pair of torn pyjamas and one pair of shoes with holes in the soles.
Further details of the miseries and tortures this boy had suffered in that period are too painful to lay out here.
Scrutiny would have helped my son
The key point to stress is that, after she had been awarded sole custody and the financial orders were in place, nobody in the legal or social services system exerted any control or scrutiny over this woman’s conduct. They simply trusted in her good faith and intentions and left her to get on with it.
If Ms Rowland’s intended reforms had been in place in this country, perhaps my son might not have suffered such hardships. If they do pass into law and if they come here, they will, of course, arrive many years too late to help or compensate him or me.
But countless numbers of fathers and children may eventually receive a measure of the recognition, the protection and the justice which our system at present refuses them.
This article first appeared in Telegraph Men and is republished here with the permission of the author, Paul Veron.
—Picture: Flickr/Reyner Media
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