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Gender equality and child maintenance

Report | Doc. 14499 | 15 February 2018

Committee
Committee on Equality and Non-Discrimination
Rapporteur :
Ms Gisela WURM, Austria, SOC
Origin
Reference to committee: Doc. 13892, Reference 4162 of 27 November 2015. 2018 - March Standing Committee

Summary

Family patterns have evolved in Europe over the last few decades. While the number of marriages has decreased, separations and divorces are on the rise. As a result, a growing number of children live in blended or single-parent families, with an obligation for the parent who does not have the day-to-day care responsibilities to contribute financially to their upbringing.

As the overwhelming majority of single-parent families in Europe are headed by a woman, child maintenance is not a gender neutral matter. On the contrary, it is very relevant to gender equality. Non-compliance with child maintenance payment affects women disproportionately and adds to the inequalities that women still face in the workplace, including the remuneration gap and difficult career development. Single-parent families are at particular risk of poverty and child poverty.

All single-parent families should have access to child maintenance. A “culture of paying” should be promoted in the member States. In case of non-payment, or partial or delayed payments, the public authorities should subrogate the payer parent (and subsequently claim the reimbursement of the sums paid from them). In addition, intentional payment avoidance should be adequately investigated, as it may amount to a form of psychological violence.

Lastly, in view of the considerable share of binational marriages and relationships, international judicial co-operation should be strengthened to ensure the payment and recovery of child maintenance.

A Draft resolutionNote

1 Family patterns are evolving in Europe, with a decrease in marriages and an increase in separations and divorces. A growing number of children live in blended families or with only one parent, with an obligation for the parent who does not have day-to-day care of the child to contribute financially to their upbringing. The overwhelming majority of single-parent families in Europe are headed by a woman. Child maintenance, a particularly significant element of the life of single-parent families, is therefore not a gender-neutral matter. The way the amount of the payment is determined and the consequences of possible non-compliance by payers affect women disproportionally. As a consequence, child maintenance regulations and functioning should be considered as relevant not only to family life in general and to the well-being of children, but also specifically to gender equality.
2 The Parliamentary Assembly is concerned that non-compliance with child maintenance payment obligations significantly affects mothers with day-to-day care responsibilities financially, adding to the inequalities that women face in the world of work, including the persistent remuneration gap, gender segregation by economic sector and difficulties in career development. The lack of flexible working arrangements and comprehensive and affordable childcare facilities makes it even more difficult to strike a balance between work and family life. Child maintenance legislation and policies and their effective enforcement is one of the many ways of countering gender inequality.
3 The Assembly reiterates the recommendations set out in Resolution 1921 (2013) on gender equality, reconciliation of private and working life and co-responsibility, Resolution 1939 (2013) on parental leave as a way to foster gender equality and Resolution 2079 (2015) “Equality and shared parental responsibility: the role of fathers”.
4 Single-parent families are at particular risk of poverty and child poverty, which leads to social segregation and discrimination and jeopardises their human dignity. The Assembly considers that all single-parent families and their children should have access to child maintenance, in order to be able to meet their minimum needs.
5 Child maintenance avoidance (intentional non-compliance, or partial compliance, with child maintenance payments) may be used to exert psychological pressure on parents with day-to-day care responsibilities, which may severely affect children as well. Such behaviour should be considered as a form of psychological violence, and should be treated as such.
6 As a considerable share of marriages and relationships are binational, child maintenance is also relevant to private international law, with a need to ensure the effective international recovery of payments. This is the main aim of the 2007 Hague Convention on the International Recovery of Child Support and Other Forms of Family Maintenance, which has been ratified by most, but not all, Council of Europe member States.
7 In the light of these considerations, Assembly calls on Council of Europe member and observer States and States whose parliaments enjoy observer status with the Assembly to:
7.1 sign and ratify, if they have not already done so, the 2007 Hague Convention on the International Recovery of Child Support and Other Forms of Family Maintenance and its Protocol on the Law Applicable to Maintenance Obligations, and ensure their full implementation;
7.2 as regards non-compliance with child maintenance payments:
7.2.1 introduce effective substitute maintenance mechanisms, based on advance payment by the State in case of non-compliance or partial or irregular compliance with maintenance payment obligations, whether this lack of compliance is intentional or not. Advance payment should be made upon request and be granted within a reasonable time;
7.2.2 ensure adequate and sustainable funding for substitute maintenance payment and adequate investment in the relevant structures for case management, including for the recoupment from the debtor of the sums advanced by the State;
7.2.3 introduce effective sanctions for child maintenance avoidance (intentional non-compliance or partial or irregular compliance with payments), including criminal sanctions when it amounts to a form of psychological violence, in line with the provisions of the Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence (CETS No. 210, “Istanbul Convention”).
7.2.4 prevent child maintenance avoidance by working closely with tax and financial investigative departments;
7.2.5 promote a “culture of paying”, by conducting information and awareness-raising activities on the harmful consequences of failed, partial or delayed payments on children and parents with day-to-day care responsibilities, also with a view to preventing debt accumulation;
7.3 as regards female and child poverty:
7.3.1 adopt and implement gender-focused strategies to tackle female poverty;
7.3.2 introduce benefits specifically targeting single-parent families, such as reduced rates on services provided to children and lower tax rates on typical children’s products;
7.4 promote single parent networking opportunities, for mutual advice and support;
7.5 strengthen international co-operation in the area of child maintenance with a view to facilitating the recovery of payments and exchanging relevant good practices.

B Explanatory memorandum by Ms Gisela Wurm, rapporteur

1 Introduction

1 Child maintenance, which can be defined as “a regular contribution from a non-resident parent towards the financial cost of raising a child, usually paid to the parent with whom the child lives most of the time”,Note is increasingly present in our societies. Due to the changes in family patterns over the last decades, a growing number of children live with only one of their parents, with an obligation for the parent who does not have day-to-day care responsibilities (“non-resident parent”) to contribute financially to the cost of raising them.
2 The emergence of new family models and the growing percentage of single-parent families have an impact on a variety of matters. For instance, such families tend to face a more difficult socio-economic situation, which translates into a higher risk of poverty, and in particular child poverty. This issue is not central to the present report, also in view of the remit of the Committee on Equality and Non-Discrimination, but it needs to be taken into account when designing and enforcing relevant legislation and policies. I chose to consider child maintenance mainly from the angle of gender equality. Indeed, this is not a gender-neutral matter. The vast majority of single-parent families in Europe are headed by a mother. This implies that child maintenance, in its various aspects (notably the way the amount of the payment is determined, and the consequences of possible non-compliance by payers) impacts women disproportionately.
3 The Parliamentary Assembly has consistently taken into account the gender aspect of family life, as well as the need to encourage fathers to participate fully in it. Resolution 1921 (2013) on gender equality, reconciliation of private and working life and co-responsibility focused on sharing parenting responsibilities between partners but also related to the case of separation or divorce. It called on the authorities of the Council of Europe member States to ensure, in that case, that “family law foresees … the possibility of joint custody of children, in their best interest, which is based on mutual agreement” (while it should never be imposed). Subsequently, in Resolution 2079 (2015) “Equality and shared parental responsibility: the role of fathers”, the Assembly reiterated its support to a more even sharing of responsibility between parents, in particular after a separation or divorce, also as a way of transcending gender stereotypes about the roles of women and men within the family.
4 I am convinced that separation and divorce should not automatically lead to fathers disappearing from their children’s lives, but that they should continue to play a major role in the upbringing of their children. This is both a right and an obligation that does not cease in case of separation or divorce. The reality throughout Council of Europe member States is that in most cases after divorce and separation children live with their mothers and the non-resident fathers pay child maintenance. In the light of this situation, I would like to identify and promote ways of ensuring that child maintenance, both from an administrative and financial point of view, is reasonably easily accessible to custodial parents. In view of the current imbalance between resident mothers and fathers, whenever child maintenance payments are not sufficient, not guaranteed, or their recovery is difficult, we may consider that gender equality is jeopardised.
5 In this report, I intend to present the new patterns that have emerged in Europe in the last decades as regards family life and explain how divorce and sole residence present considerable gender differences. I have also analysed how child maintenance is regulated and how it functions in practice. On this basis, I have identified measures that should be taken by member States in order to ensure the payment of child maintenance, in order to tackle child poverty and ensure that a separation or divorce does not impact disproportionately on women’s social and economic well-being, as well as on their right to equality.

2 Marriages and divorces: new family patterns

6 General trends in Europe show a decrease in the number of marriages and an increase in the number of divorces. Although 71.2% of all families in the 28 member States of the European UnionNote are composed of married couples,Note the number of marriages fell from 3.4 million in 1964 to 2.1 million in 2011. In parallel, the number of divorces increased by 150% compared to 1965.Note Outside the European Union, when we look at Ukraine and Albania, the former had one of the highest divorce rates in the world in 2014, unlike the latter which has an average divorce rate.
7 This situation inevitably leads to the creation of new family models and patterns, such as children living permanently with only one of their parents (when, following a separation or divorce, sole residence is decided by the court or agreed between the parents) or in blended families. Also, this means that today more children are likely to have divorced parents, even though figures show that the more children in the household, the lower the chance of divorce (except in Nordic countries, where the number of children has no impact on the decision to divorce).Note In 2011, 16% of families in the European Union were single-parent families.Note This percentage is higher in the Nordic countries, the Baltic States and the United Kingdom and in Ireland, but is lower in southern and eastern Europe. This regional difference may be the result of cultural factors, including the influence of the Catholic and Orthodox churches, and structural ones, such as conservative welfare State models and the economic situation.
8 In addition to the situation of separated and divorced parents, we should take into account the situation of parents who have never been married or in a relationship. Even in this case, the interests of the child and the rights of the mother should be protected.

3 Gender differences in divorce and sole residence

9 The gender gap as regards sole residence is considerable throughout European Union member States, with on average 13.4% of sole mothers and 2.6% of sole fathers. The highest gaps are observed in the Baltic States, Poland and the Slovak Republic, the lowest gaps in Germany, Denmark, Sweden, the Netherlands and Cyprus (in Norway, 13% of lone parents are fathersNote). The high prevalence of mothers as resident parents after divorce implies the involvement of gender issues: it is the father who most often has the obligation to pay child maintenance to his former partner. The mother is then in charge of the children’s health, education and care on a daily basis, in most cases having a professional activity at the same time. The father – as non-resident parent – is in charge of taking care of the children on a regular, but not daily basis, and needs to financially contribute to the children’s education and well-being. This obligation usually lasts at least until the child’s majority. Hence, if the father fails to pay, it is the mother who initiates the necessary recovery procedures according to the country’s legal provisions.
10 Over the last decades, women in Europe are increasingly achieving higher education levels, which give them access to better or more demanding jobs. This tends to change their vision of motherhood, which is no longer necessarily their main priority. Career advancement and professional achievements have acquired increased importance. Work–life balance measures should be adopted: without these, women too often have to choose between a high-level professional career and motherhood. It is for this reason that women marry later, have fewer children than a few decades ago, or get married but remain childless when they have jobs with a high degree of responsibility.
11 Until a few decades ago, fathers were considered mainly as breadwinners, often with only occasional parenting activities. With the increase of female participation in the labour market and the development of gender balance in parental roles, the father has the possibility to bond with his child more: many countries have introduced paternity leave schemes, the man’s role as a stay-at-home dad is becoming increasingly popular in developed countries, and task-sharing as well as work–life balance for both genders has acquired greater importance in public policy.
12 In spite of these societal changes demonstrating a greater involvement of fathers in their children’s education, mothers receive the custody of their child in 85% of cases after divorce. This may also depend on the fact that fathers often put their career first and may have to spend part of their working time away from home. However, conflicts as far as custody of children is concerned are increasing, since fathers wish to get more involved in their children’s day-to-day lives.

4 Child poverty and child maintenance

13 After separation or divorce, resident parents are confronted by a higher risk of poverty. Figures show that despite an overall increase in incomes in Europe, child poverty has grown over recent years, as households with children earn less than households without children where both members of the couple work full-time. Figures also show that child maintenance payments have a considerable positive effect on child poverty: in countries such as Denmark, Germany, Switzerland and Sweden, for instance, the child maintenance system has enabled child poverty to be reduced by 2.5%.Note
14 According to a study commissioned by the European Commission in 2014,Note younger single mothers are less likely to have full-time jobs. In addition, those who are employed part-time are much less likely to have managerial positions and much more likely to be in non-skilled jobs, or to work in services and sales, compared to all other groups of mothers.
15 The risk of poverty with which lone parents are confronted led to policies such as: encouraging shared parenting (for example in France, Germany and Belgium), strengthening State child support, establishing rules on the payment of child maintenance by non-resident parents, as well as maintenance recovery systems in case of non-payment. Indeed, many countries have implemented rules according to which the payment of child maintenance is obligatory by legal decision established by a court after divorce and non-payment is punishable by law.
16 Single parent associations and support groups are available in a number of Council of Europe member States. Networking and mutual support contribute to alleviating the challenges that single-parent families face, particularly by providing reliable information on topics including financial benefits provided by the State, domestic abuse, access to health, childcare and education. Employment and work–life balance are other areas of intervention of this kind of network, with a possible positive impact on the risk of poverty.

5 Need for child maintenance systems

17 Most Council of Europe member States have established child maintenance recovery schemes, guaranteed by the State, local authorities or dedicated agencies, for cases of non-compliance by the payer. In most cases, recourse to these procedures is only possible once all the judicial options have been exhausted. In my own country, Austria, and several others, including France (see case study below) and Germany, the child maintenance system allows for child maintenance payments to be made upon request of the resident parent, without the need to initiate legal proceedings in advance. This is the most effective way of protecting the rights of the resident parent, both financially and to relieve them of the burden of taking legal action. The interests of the child are also more effectively protected by an early intervention of the State. Surrogate payments will then be recouped from the debtor.
18 Child maintenance is not only needed in order to prevent child poverty, but also to encourage the non-resident parent to take responsibility for their children’s upbringing and to protect gender equality in family income. In most legal systems, the amount of child maintenance is agreed on by the parents or, in case of a disagreement between the parties, by a court decision. The payment obligation ends when the child turns 18, except in some countries such as Ireland, Poland or the United Kingdom, where it ends when the children finish full-time education or when they become financially independent.Note
19 It should be noted that child maintenance differs from the compensatory allowance, which is paid by one member of the divorced couple to the other following a judicial decision. Moreover, in most systems, child maintenance is due to the resident parent, whether the parents are married or not. It should be noted that today 40% of children in the European Union are born out of wedlock, compared to 27,3% in 2000, with huge differences between countries: in Bulgaria, Estonia, Slovenia, France, Sweden, Belgium, Denmark and Iceland, a majority of children were born outside marriage, while in countries such as Greece, Croatia, Cyprus, Italy, Malta, Poland and Lithuania, 70% of children are born within marriage (97% in Turkey).Note
20 A growing number of relationships and marriages in Europe are binational: in Germany, for example, this is the case in approximately 14% of marriages (one in seven), with foreign spouses coming from among others Turkey, Italy, the United States, Poland and Asian countries. Mechanisms to ensure that child maintenance can be recovered even when the payer parent lives in another country are therefore increasingly necessary. The 2007 Hague Convention on the international recovery of child support and other forms of family maintenance, and its protocol on the applicable law, which have been ratified by most, but not all, Council of Europe member States, aims to provide such mechanisms, based on international judicial co-operation.

6 Case studies

6.1 Albania

Country ficheNote

– Human Development index: 0,764; rank: 75

– Welfare State model: post-communist

– Fertility rate: 1.7

– Maternal mortality ratio (deaths per 100 000 live births, 2015): 29

– Child poverty: 17.4%

– Gender Inequality Index 2015: 0.267; rank: 51

– Population with at least secondary education (% aged 25 and older): men: 90.5%; women: 90.2%

– Labour force participation rate (% aged 15 and older): men: 65.5%; women: 44.9%

– Women and men working part time as a percentage of full employment (data 2012): men: 19.2%; women: 28.4%

– Unemployment rate, 2016: 16.3%

– Gender pay gap: 17.63%

– Crude divorce rate (number of divorces during the year for 1 000 people): 1.7 in 2011

– Crude marriage rate (number of marriages during the year for 1 000 people): 8.2 in 2013

21 After 1991 and the end of the communist regime in Albania, the country started a series of structural reforms towards democracy and free market economy. As in most post-communist countries, those overwhelming changes had a huge impact on social affairs, and social protection was among the elements of socio-economic life that were pushed into the background by policymakers, with no institutional structure provided in those areas and where there are thus many shortcomings. The most vulnerable groups, including women and children, were the first ones to suffer.
22 The complexity and difficulties of family life – socio-cultural, economic and personal factors and residual traditional patriarchal values – create a challenging situation for women. In addition, there is a high rate of domestic violence and high levels of discrimination based on gender. Cases of child marriage and forced marriage are also reported. The combination of these elements explains Albania’s low ranking in the area of gender equality. In 2011-2015, to tackle these issues, a National Strategy on Gender Equality aimed at strengthening gender equality by increasing women’s empowerment as well as their participation in political and economic decision-making was implemented.Note
23 Albania is one of the youngest countries in Europe, with children and young adults representing 46% of the population. The divorce rate is very low, with only 0.2% of children living in divorced households,Note and single-parent families account for 5.4% of Albanian families.Note Divorce is an exception in the country for cultural and economic reasons. Especially in rural areas, divorced women are stigmatised. Women who are unemployed at the time of divorce are deprived of custody of children because of their insufficient financial means and despite child support provided by the State.Note This situation leads to family fragmentation, with many children separated from their mothers and placed in the father’s and the father’s parents’ custody. This aspect of the lone mother’s situation is extremely challenging and would need attention from policy makers.
24 Albania’s Family Code states that the conditions of a divorce can either be set by the parents and then approved (or rejected) by a court, or by the latter if the couple cannot reach an agreement. Then, the non-resident parent needs to provide child maintenance and spousal support so that there are no strong discrepancies between the parents’ living conditions. The amount of child maintenance is established according to the current and future financial situation of both parents, which implies the obligation of both parents to be transparent about their financial situation.
25 The denial of necessary support for the children, parents or spouse, from the person who is obliged, through a court order, to provide the support, constitutes a criminal offence and is punishable by a fine of up to one year’s imprisonment. However, the Family Code does not present any enforcement procedure as regards child maintenance. This leads to a lack of monitoring and of a guarantee of the non-resident parent’s financial participation in the child’s maintenance, which often affects the child’s and the resident partner’s living conditions.
26 Divorce outcomes especially affect children in Albania, since they become at risk of living in poverty due to a low level of income earned by lone mothers and to the lack of government support. This situation implies negative outcomes such as child labour and high levels of illness and disability due to poor living conditions. Some figures show that the proportion of children living in a state of absolute poverty (with an income of less than €110 per month) is 17.4% and that almost 2% of children are living in families with zero income.Note
27 Two main social assistance cash benefits are provided at local level by the municipalities and are monitored and evaluated by the State Social Services at national level: income support aimed at guaranteeing the minimum standard of living for the unemployed, and disability benefits. The country does not provide any specific family benefit or child welfare programme.Note However, the Constitution of the Republic of Albania states that every citizen is entitled to receive the highest standards of health, elderly care, childcare as well as specialised education and integration of disabled people. In 2010, Albania reinstated the profession of private bailiff, which had been abolished during communist times. Its role is to guarantee the enforcement of court decisions, among them child maintenance obligations.Note However, the service is still new, not free of charge and its accessibility in rural areas is questionable.
28 Despite the scars of the past still remaining in Albania, the country put significant effort into building institutions guaranteeing the rule of law and respect for human rights. The enforcement of child maintenance payments is guaranteed by law, and gender equality is monitored through independent entities. Thus, many improvements have been made, taking western European countries as an example as regards the guarantee of social rights. However, significant changes are still needed for the country to reach a level of protection comparable to those observed in western Europe in the area of child maintenance.

6.2 France

Country ficheNote

– Human Development index (2015): 0,897, rank: 21

– Welfare State model: continental

– Fertility rate (2016): 1.9

– Maternal mortality ratio (deaths per 100 000 live births, 2013): 12

– Child poverty: 21%

– Gender Equality Index rank (2015): 19

– population with at least secondary education (% aged 25 and older): men: 83.2; women: 78.0

– Labour force participation rate (% aged 15 and older): men: 61.6; women: 50.7

– Women and men working part time as % of full employment: men: 7.4; women: 30.0

– Unemployment and employment rates: men: 10.8%; women; 9.9%

– Gender pay gap: 16%

– Crude divorce rate (number of divorces during the year per 1 000 people): 2.0 in 2011

– Crude marriage rate (number of marriages during the year per 1 000 people): 3.6 in 2012

29 There were 1.6 million sole parents in 2008 (2.5 times more than in 1968).Note In 1968, 8% of children lived with a single parent. In 2005, the figure was 2.84 million,Note or 18%. Overall, figures show that only 10.3% of children living with a lone parent are three years old or younger, and that there are fewer children living with lone parents than with couples. Moreover, the regions of western and central France are the regions encompassing the fewest single-parent households.
30 85% of sole parents are women and 15% of sole parents are men. There are few single fathers bringing up their children alone in France, since the child’s custody is more often given to the mother than to the father. In addition, often fathers are not ready to give up their job or change their lifestyle to take care of children on a daily basis. Divorced fathers remarry sooner than divorced mothers, also as a consequence of their being less often resident fathers and therefore being more independent. It should be noted that fewer young children live with their father than older teenagers: 10% of children aged 0 to 6 years old and 18% of children aged between 17 and 24 live with their father. Moreover, in 63% of cases, the single father has only one child in his custody.Note
31 The reasons for sole parenthood have changed over the years: in 1962, 55% of sole parents were widows or widowers. In 2005, this figure was less than 10%, the main reason for sole parenthood being separation or divorce.Note
32 30% of single-parent households are at risk of poverty, compared to 13% in other households, and 21% of children are at risk of poverty.Note Single parenthood is the first cause of poverty in France. Moreover, single parents have more difficulty in accessing housing than other families.Note 33% of single mothers aged less than 35 years old have no university education, against 19% of those living in a couple (probably because of how challenging it becomes for a single mother to continue her studies). 30% of single mothers earn less than €1 000 per month. 59% of single mothers are employed, 23.8% of them work part time and 17.3% of them work on a temporary contract.
33 In France, child maintenance is decided by a court. For a long time this was a discretionary process without specific rules. In 2010, the Ministry of Justice first introduced a scale, regularly updated since then, to help the court to determine the amount. The court and the social benefits agency guarantee the payment of child maintenance to the resident parent and advance payments made to the latter are possible, irrespective of the resident parent’s level of income. In France, child maintenance payments end when the child reaches the age of 18.
34 In France, child maintenance is the expression of family solidarity and is designed to provide the child with the necessary conditions for development and education. That means that even after the child’s majority, the resident parent can request child maintenance payment for his/her education. In that case, the resident parent must provide evidence of the child’s needs (salary statements, unemployment certificate, proof of a long illness, and maintenance and education costs).
35 Child maintenance amounts on average to €170 per month and per child in the case of alternating custody (15% of cases); €172 per child is the principal residence of the child is at the mother’s; and €118 per child if the principal residence of the child is at the father’s.Note
36 When the mother has the exclusive custody of the child, the father is required to pay child maintenance in 83% of cases. When the father receives custody of the child, the mother needs to pay child maintenance in 36% of divorce cases.Note However, it is interesting to note that the figures in practice are different: 68% of children receive child maintenance from their fathers, 3% from their mother and 29% of children do not receive any child maintenance, which means that 40% of the owed child maintenance is unpaid in France and would concern 3 million children in the country.Note
37 Figures show that in two thirds of divorce cases, the parents agree on the modalities and amount of child maintenance. However, in case of disagreement, the parties can use the support of mediation or conciliation. Both procedures imply the involvement of a third person who is qualified, impartial and independent and whose role is to assist the divorcing couple in putting in place a child maintenance scheme. The family mediator or conciliator promotes communication between the divorcing parents. His/her intervention is guided by the principle of the best interests of the child.Note
38 Public policies regarding child maintenance are focused on maintaining a relationship between children and parents, both economic (obligation of financially contributing to the children’s material well-being, maintenance and education), and social-emotional (sharing of parental authority, sharing of the children’s custody and involvement in the children’s life). Hence, public policy has been focusing on encouraging alternating custody of the child after divorce. While aiming to guarantee the financial well-being of lone mothers, the French system makes the child’s well-being the top priority.
39 In 2013, the Minister for Women’s Rights announced specific measures against non-resident parents who would not pay the child maintenance to the other parent. Every year, 4 500 people are convicted for “family abandonment”. The first measure taken following conviction is attachment of earnings, but the government extended the measure to an attachment of social benefits, through co-operation with the family allowance agency. The latter will be entitled to pursue a non-paying parent in order to compensate the losses. Indeed, in 2011, the family allowance agency recovered only 15 million euros out of the 75 million spent to compensate overdue payments, which justifies the need for a strict framework of child maintenance enforcement. This new framework is an example of the government’s investment in child maintenance guarantees.
40 Law No. 873 of 4 August 2014Note introduced new measures to guarantee that single parents entitled to child maintenance payments obtain the sums due. The CAF (Caisse d’allocations familiales), is the entity in charge of compensating unpaid child maintenance. Payment may be requested from the CAF by the resident parent if the other parent’s payment is delayed by over one month.
41 This new system was experimented for over one year in 20 French departments and proved timely and relevant. As the experimental phase was successful, the system was applied to the entire national territory from April 2016.
42 These regulations are a positive example of shifting the onus of collecting due payments from the individual to the public authority.

6.3 Spain

Country ficheNote

– Welfare State model: continental

– Fertility rate: 1.3

– Maternal mortality ratio (deaths per 100 000 live births, 2015): 5

– Child poverty: around 24%

– Gender Equality Index rank (2015): 15

– Population with at least secondary education (% aged 25 and older): men: 70.9%; women: 76.7%

– Labour force participation rate (% aged 15 and older): men: 64.8%; women: 52.3%

– Unemployment rate (2017): 19.6%

– Gender pay gap (2014): 14.9%

– Crude marriage rate (number of marriages during the year for 1 000 people): 3.4 in 2011

– Human Development index: 0.884; rank: 27

– Crude divorce rate (number of divorces during the year for 1 000 people): 2.2 in 2010

43 Spain has achieved significant progress in the area of gender equality in the last decades, thanks to a significant body of legislation and policies. The Framework law on gender equality of 2007, for instance, enshrines gender mainstreaming as a basic principle of action for all public administrations, that must be included in all norms and budgets. This law also requires gender training for all public administration staff and the introduction of gender issues in the public examinations to enter the civil service, as well as the use of gender-disaggregated statistics and a gender impact assessment for new legislation.
44 Parents share responsibility for their children. In case of separation or divorce, the non-resident parent pays child maintenance to the resident parent. In case of shared custody, a joint fund is usually established, in which both parents contribute and from which they withdraw during the time when they have custody of the child.
45 The amount of child maintenance and the criteria to calculate it are not indicated by law. It is usually the parents who agree the sum due, based on the needs of the child and taking into account their income and expenses. A court may revise the agreement to ensure that it is proportional to these elements. Orientative tables on the amount of child maintenance were published in 2013 by the Consejo General del Poder Judicial, the constitutional body governing the Spanish judiciary system. These tables are not binding and they are based on the practice of Spanish courts. The amounts may be adapted to the changes in the cost of living and the financial situation of parents.
46 At the hearing on 12 October 2017, Ms Amalia Fernández Doyague presented the situation of child maintenance and the challenges that single-parent families face in Spain. A lawyer based in Madrid, Ms Fernández is the President of the Association of Women Lawyers “Themis”, which provides legal advice in matters that are particularly relevant to gender equality, such as family law and gender-based and domestic violence.
47 Enforcing court decisions or the agreements between parents on child maintenance is often challenging. There are approximately 2 million single-parent families in Spain that are entitled to child maintenance payments; 80% of single parents are women. In case of non-compliance, a civil procedure may be initiated, but it is lengthy and often unsuccessful. Debtors often find ways to hide their financial assets and the execution of judgments becomes difficult if not impossible. Criminal sanctions are also imposed for non-compliance, but no measures are taken to enforce the payment obligations during the criminal procedure. It is worth noting that non-compliance with child maintenance payments may originate from a variety of causes, including financial difficulties, but it is in some cases deliberate and should then be considered as economic violence (a form of psychological violence in which the perpetrator controls and obstructs the victim’s access to revenue).
48 In the Spanish system, the public authorities may advance the payments under two conditions: a court decision acknowledging the non-resident parent’s obligation to pay, and the lack of sufficient financial means of the resident parent. The situation is so challenging for mothers (who, as mentioned, represent the overwhelming majority of resident parents) and the remedies provided by the law are so clearly inadequate, that Ms Fernández believes that entirely new types of sanctions should be introduced. Depriving the non-resident parent of the right to visit their children, she deems, would be a more effective way of tackling situations of deliberate non-compliance. While this proposal is interesting, it might be difficult in practice to distinguish between intentional failure to pay and real economic difficulties. In addition, children would be the ultimate victims of such sanctions. However, the elements highlighted by Ms Fernández, and particularly the psychological repercussions of the child maintenance system (which in some respects, paradoxically, reproduces and consolidates a patriarchal vision of the family) should be taken into account when designing and enforcing legislation in this area. A reform of child custody is currently under discussion in Spain.
49 The case of Spain, like that of the United Kingdom, shows how challenging it can be for resident parents to obtain payments due. The situation of countries that have an otherwise effective social protection system but leave single-parent families in a vulnerable situation confirms that more effective measures should be adopted in this area. The most advanced legislation and policies at European level, which postulate an intervention of the State at a very early stage, should serve as a model.

6.4 Ukraine

Country ficheNote

– Human Development index: rank: 0,743, rank: 84

– Welfare State model: post-communist

– Fertility rate: 1.5

– Maternal mortality ratio (deaths per 100 000 live births, 2013): 23

– Child poverty: n.a.

– Gender Equality Index rank (2014): 57

– Population with at least secondary education (% aged 25 and older): men: 95.9%; women: 91.7%

– Labour force participation rate (% aged 15 and older): men: 66.9%; women: 53.2%

– Overall unemployment rate: 9.3%

– Gender pay gap: around 11%

– Crude divorce rate: 2.8 in 2010

– Crude marriage rate: 6.7 in 2010, 7.8 in 2011

50 Despite significant improvements, notably in children’s health, rights and well-being, introduced since 1991, numerous issues such as child abandonment and HIV/AIDS still significantly affect Ukrainian children. Like in Albania, the transition from a centrally planned economy to a free market economy resulted in an increase in unemployment, social inequality and shortcomings in social protection systems. These factors particularly affect children in single-parent households and in two-parent families with more than one child.Note
51 In 2001, Ukraine developed a wide range of social assistance schemes to support vulnerable people and low-income families: maternity assistance, one-off benefits after the birth of a child, benefits for children under the age of three, financial support for single mothers – with two tranches: one for mothers of children aged up to 6 and one for mothers of children aged 6 to18 – and assistance for children in care and under guardianship.
52 The divorce rate in Ukraine is high and divorce procedures are simple. It can take as little as six weeks to obtain a divorce. Child maintenance payments imposed on non-resident parents are low (between 300 and 450 UAH, or €10 to €15 a month).
53 Article 141 of the Family Code of Ukraine guarantees equal parental rights and responsibilities in respect of the child. The divorce procedure is described in Chapters II to IV of the Family Code, based on the International Convention on the Rights of the Child, which provides that the couple can agree on the amount and recipient of child maintenance, and the conditions for the exercise of parental rights. The agreement must be certified by a notary, who may issue an executive act for payment of the alimonies in case of non-compliance.Note
54 The child’s custody is decided between the parents and the child remains under the parent’s financial care until the age of 18. Both parents are obliged to contribute to the financial and psychological well-being of the child. The non-resident parent participates in child maintenance in cash or in kind. In cases of disagreement between the parents, the amount of the child maintenance is decided by a court as a part of the non-resident parent’s salary or a fixed monthly amount. The latter should be no less than 30% of the minimum living cost for a child of a given age.
55 The residence of a child under 10 is decided between the parents. After the age of 10, the child’s residence is decided between the parents and the child. Past the age of 14, children can choose their place of residence themselves.
56 Parents decide together the modalities of the child’s upbringing, and the resident parent does not have the right to prevent the non-resident parent from maintaining communication with the child, unless it harms the child’s well-being. The modalities of the child’s upbringing can be defined in writing and registered by a notary. The non-application of the measures of the document is punishable with financial compensation.Note
57 There is a possibility for the resident parent to obtain child maintenance from the State if there is a lack of payment of the due amount by the non-resident parent. The court has the possibility to decrease or increase the amount of child maintenance in view of possible changes that might occur in living conditions and health as well as the life situation of the child and of the non-resident parent. In case of voluntary non-compliance by the non-resident parent with the payment of child maintenance, the enforcement is ensured by the court through seizures of the non-resident parent’s property, salary, pensions or benefits and the Court can impose penalties.Note
58 Public benefits are provided to single mothers. Only single mothers who have applied through social protection agencies are entitled to receive them. However, many single mothers are not aware of their eligibility to receive the State benefits corresponding to their situation and the other legal protection measures applied to them (for instance, a single mother cannot be fired if she has in her care a child under the age of 14). This lack of awareness and information places women in a situation of vulnerability. In 2008, almost 25 000 single-parent households and 54 000 children were receiving social benefits of this kind. The number of single-parent households is higher, but the lack of access to information prevents single parents being included in the system and benefiting from the necessary protection. This phenomenon has the consequence of hampering the social profiling of vulnerable families as well as their mapping.Note
59 In May 2017, Ukraine’s Commissioner on Children’s Rights announced that a draft law to amend the legislation on child maintenance was under preparation.Note The Commissioner explained that one third of the claims that his office received concerned the collection of child maintenance. That amounted to almost seven million applications. A new law was therefore necessary to better protect the interests of the child and to encourage more responsible parenthood. The new draft legislation is based on the principle that the child (not the resident parent) is the holder of the right to child maintenance, while the adult living with the child only manages this right. In addition, a new, simplified judicial procedure would be introduced, which would take only three days from the launch of the proceeding to the court’s decision on child support. Moreover, the minimum amount of child support would be increased from 30% of the minimum living cost per child to 50%. In addition, the person who files the claim would not have to attend the court hearings and may file the claim from where they reside.
60 Under the provisions of the draft legislation, the court would take into consideration whether the child maintenance payer is in possession of moveable and immovable property as well as money. The aim is to better protect the child’s interests when child support payers hide their actual income and pay the minimum wage amount. “If one of the parents is in possession of expensive property and vehicles, lives in a luxury house, often travels abroad and at the same time claims to be getting a minimum wage, a child support payee may demand a bigger payment upon presentation of proof to the court”, said Oleh Prostybozhenko, attorney-at-law and head of the Center for family law studies, at the presentation of the draft law.
61 The new measures introduced by the above-mentioned draft law are steps in the right direction. As I pointed out, the most effective way to protect the interests of the child and the rights of the resident parent should be based on advance payments made by the State. The proposed reform does not envisage introducing such a system. However, at least it simplifies the legal procedures that resident parents need to undertake to obtain child maintenance in case of failed or irregular payment. This is a positive element of the reform. Endeavouring to estimate the real income of the payer, and to adapt the amount of child maintenance payment to their actual standards of living, is also to be welcomed. It should be stressed that if this reform is approved, actual enforcement will be crucial.
62 Further efforts should be made to improve the practical functioning of the child maintenance system in Ukraine. Particular attention should be paid to monitoring non-compliance with divorce decisions and child maintenance obligations. Widespread cases of failure to pay child maintenance represent a real gender issue in the country at the moment. In addition, the public should be adequately informed about the available public benefits. The figures of single-parent families applying for State benefits, which I referred to above, are disproportionately low.

6.5 United Kingdom

Country ficheNote

– Human Development index (2015): 0,909, rank: 16

– Welfare State model: Anglo-saxon (Main characteristics: relatively low level of total State spending, and low level of expenditure on social protection)

– Fertility rate (2016): 1.81

– Maternal mortality ratio (deaths per 100 000 live births, 2013): 8

– Child poverty: 30.3% of children are at risk of poverty

– Gender Equality Index rank (2015): 28

– Population with at least secondary education (% aged 25 and older): men: 99.9; women: 99.8

– Labour force participation rate (% aged 15 and older): men: 68.7; women: 55.7

– Women and men working part time as a percentage of full employment: men: 11,2; women: 40.9

– Unemployment rate: men: 5.5; women: 5.1

– Gender pay gap: 18%

– Crude divorce rate (number of divorces during the year per 1 000 people): 2.1 in 2011

– Crude marriage rate (number of marriages during the year per 1 000 people): 4.5 in 2011

63 There are 2.5 million separated households in the United Kingdom and around 3.7 million children living in this kind of family, which places the country among those with the highest rate across the Council of Europe area. In comparison, 9.3 million children live with a couple and 320 000 live in another type of household; 48% of couples divorcing in 2012 in England and Wales had at least one child under 16.
64 The United Kingdom is also among the countries with the highest rate of teenage pregnancies, which tends to increase the number of single mothers who haven’t graduated from higher education. Couples usually have their first child at the age of 30 whereas single parents have children around the age of 20. The average age for divorced people is 45 for men and 42 for women.Note Figures show growth in employment rates among households in the United Kingdom. An increase of employment rates among lone parents has also been observed (more than 20 percentage points since 1996), due to the government’s policy initiatives aimed at lone parents’ employment (the New Deal for Lone Parents, from 1998 to 2011, and from 2008, the changes to Lone Parent Obligation).Note Nonetheless, of the 1.4 million children living in a workless household, almost 70% lived with only one of their parents.Note
65 In 2004, 21.9% of parents received child support and 2.8% of families made child support payments, but a majority of single parents do not receive any child maintenance. Figures show that approximately half of single-parent households live under the poverty line: low pay and job insecurity being the main reasons for this phenomenon, added to the lack of child maintenance and child support.Note Single parents often resort to juggling more than one job or increasing their working hours.
66 Historically, the first legal act mentioning child maintenance was the Act for the Relief of the Poor of 1601. In the 19th century, the law stipulated that the parish had the power to recover child maintenance from fathers of children born out of wedlock. From 1993 to 2012, the agency responsible for calculating and enforcing child maintenance payments was the Child Support Agency (CSA).
67 From 2012, the child maintenance system has been progressively reformed in England, Wales and Scotland, to improve the overall situation regarding overdue payments: “Two thirds (64%) of resident parents on out-of-work benefits do not receive any child maintenance from their child’s other parent.”Note In the United Kingdom, child maintenance is paid to the child until the age of 18, but might be granted even after that age for children who undergo specific professional training.
68 Today, the system encompasses a new entity called the Child Maintenance Service (CMS) and the pre-existing Child Maintenance Options (CMO) has become a “gateway service”: parents must now first contact the CMO before they can apply to the CMS. The first step to child maintenance is an agreement reached between the parents. Indeed, the CMO promotes “family-based arrangements”, encouraging separating parents to work together by making their own arrangements. The CSA is being gradually closed down and replaced by the CMS (this phase was due to be finished by the end of 2017 but has recently been extended).
69 The CMS calculates the amount of child maintenance in case of disagreement between the parents.Note It also has the role of finding the non-resident parent if his or her whereabouts are unknown. It sorts out parentage conflicts, applies the yearly revision of child maintenance and enforces payments.Note Except in very specific circumstances, parents are put in the “Direct Pay” service, where payments are made directly between parents (for instance by standing order). If a receiving parent reports non-payment to the CMS, the CMS should then take steps to ensure a payment is made or move the case over to the “Collect and Pay” service.
70 Collect and Pay, introduced in 2014 is used when the CMS must step in to collect maintenance, because a payment has not been made or is not being made in full. The CMS can take enforcement action in the Collect and Pay service to recover arrears and ensure that payment is made (for example, by taking out a liability order, which opens the doors to further enforcement, such as deductions from earnings). Collect and Pay involves significant fees.Note
71 The British child maintenance system provides parents with the possibility and the freedom to determine the amount of child maintenance, which offers more privacy and encourages compromise. The aim of the reform was to make the procedure less stressful for the parents and the children, and to cut down on costs and fees. The encouragement for parents to reach a peaceful arrangement might also have the consequence of making their relationship as a divorced couple sharing custody of a child less conflictual. It is still too early to assess whether the intended outcomes of the reform have been achieved.
72 The current system testifies to a will to correct the inefficiency of the previous one. However, it has several shortcomings. In particular, the high fees that parents need to pay for the CMS to help them find an agreement or when a paying parent is absent, impossible to track down or simply refuses to pay might be particularly challenging for low-income parents. This might also be considered discriminatory in that it affects mothers disproportionately, as they generally have a lower income than fathers. In a few years, the system should be adequately assessed and, if necessary, improved.

7 Conclusions

73 As emerged clearly from the research work and the hearing held with the participation of experts directly involved in child maintenance, single-parent families, most of which are led by a woman, face multiple challenges in their everyday life. Their financial situation is often delicate and the risk of poverty is higher than the general average. This is the result of a combination of inequalities that women still face, in particular in the work place, despite the progress achieved in gender equality in recent decades.
74 There is still a pay gap, which at the end of a career determines a wide gap in pensions; segregation by economic sector, with more women employed in industries providing less-well paid jobs; the so-called glass ceiling, that is the difficult access of women to high-level posts. These forms of discrimination, combined with the lack of flexible working arrangements such as teleworking and flexible working hours and with insufficient childcare services, contrive to make it extremely difficult for single mothers to work and support their family adequately.
75 Single parents are usually entitled to child maintenance payments to be made by the non-resident parent, most frequently the father. When for various reasons the payments are delayed or not made, the interests of the child and the rights of their resident parent should be effectively protected. The best way of doing so is through payments being made by the State upon request of the resident parent, without the need to initiate legal proceedings. This is the most effective way of protecting the rights of the resident parent, both financially and to relieve them of the burden of taking legal action. The interests of the child are also more effectively protected by an early intervention of the State. Surrogate payments will then be recouped from the debtor.
76 It is not acceptable, in prosperous countries with effective social security systems, such as Council of Europe member States, that children grow up in poverty and the parents living with them face the risk of social exclusion.
77 Progress in this area requires a far-reaching approach, encompassing legislation and policies aimed at improving the situation of women in the workplace but also at encouraging the sharing of child upbringing responsibilities between parents, whether during a relationship or marriage or in case of separation and divorce.
78 Therefore, a wide range of measures recommended in the past by the Assembly in the areas of parents’ rights and the reconciliation of work and family life are relevant to the situation of single-parent families and I deem it necessary to refer to the following previous texts adopted by the Assembly: Resolution 1921 (2013) on gender equality, reconciliation of private and working life and co-responsibility; Resolution 1939 (2013) on parental leave as a way to foster gender equality; and Resolution 2079 (2015) “Equality and shared parental responsibility: the role of fathers”.
79 In view of the gender breakdown of single-parent families in Europe today, protecting the rights of resident parents to child maintenance is an important step in the path towards achieving equality between women and men. Many other steps are necessary; as the various forms of inequality mentioned above are closely interconnected, efforts should be made to tackle them in all areas.
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