Australian National News

Parents to pay or face prison

JOHN STAPLETON
The Australian
07mar00

PARENTS who fail to make child maintenance payments will face prison under new proposals.

But the Women's Electoral Lobby has condemned the Federal Government move as "bizarre" and the Men's Rights Agency said it was backward and counterproductive.

The legislation, part of the Family Law Amendments Bill of 1999, is to be debated in the present session of parliament.

It states that the Family Court can impose a sentence of imprisonment for contravention of a child maintenance order if it is satisfied that the contravention is "wilful or fraudulent".

The Attorney-General Daryl Williams yesterday said the bill would "make enforcement more effective" and would "better protect the interests of children".

He said parents would only be jailed "in very serious cases", for example, "if a parent deliberately concealed or understated their income in order to avoid obligations".

The bill states that a term of up to one year in prison could be imposed and that jail does not release the paying parent from liability.

Mr Williams said the power to determine appropriate sanctions was up to the Family Court.

A spokesman for the Child Support Agency said 62 per cent of people were in arrears. The overwhelming majority of those paying maintenance are men, but 8 per cent are mothers, an increasing number of whom are also in default.

Sarah Maddison, NSW Convenor of the Women's Electoral Lobby, said she did not support the jailing of parents. "We have to look at what is in the best interests of children and having either parent in jail is not in the best interests of children," she said.

"It is a misguided response. It is bizarre."

Barry Williams, National President of the Lone Fathers' Association, said he was disappointed with the move and he believed innocent people would go to jail.

Sue Price of the Men's Rights Agency said it was a sad irony that the fathers the Government was threatening to jail would be more than happy to look after their children in shared care arrangements: "Overseas studies clearly show fathers who have good contact with their children and know the money is being spent for their children's benefit were more than generous."

  News Limited 2000