Fri | Jan 17, 2020

No point jailing deadbeat dads if they’re broke – Chuck - Justice minister says it’s ‘senseless’ imprisoning fathers who don’t have means to meet child maintenance obligations

Published:Sunday | October 6, 2019 | 12:28 AMCarlene Davis - Gleaner Writer
Chuck
David Wan
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Despite the fact that they can be imprisoned for non-payment of child maintenance fees, nearly 5,000 fathers are being taken to court by Jamaican women for child maintenance every year.

While mothers complain bitterly, Justice Minister Delroy Chuck said it makes no sense arresting men who are unable to pay as it doesn’t help the situation.

“It doesn’t make sense locking them up if it can’t be enforced because they don’t have the money. It’s a totally different matter if the father can afford it and is not paying the maintenance. In those cases, they very often can ensure that he’s locked up to enforce the orders, but in many cases the fathers don’t have a steady income,” said Chuck.

Back in March, using data from Court Management Services (CMS), it was revealed in The Sunday Gleaner that an annual average of 4,775 fathers are brought to book for not paying their share of child support.

In August, while delivering the main address at a Child Diversion Programme Sensitisation seminar for justices of the peace and the police in Mandeville, Manchester, Chuck said far too many Jamaican fathers are being called to family court for maintenance.

In his more recent comments to The Sunday Gleaner, he said the court is doing the best that it can.

MAINTENANCE ACT 2005

“I don’t know of any complaints coming to us for there to be any modification to the child maintenance order. I mean, the question of enforcement order is something that can be looked at; the question is whether or not families that can afford it are not paying the maintenance,” said Chuck.

The Maintenance Act 2005 states that both parents are obligated to provide for their child once the child is unmarried and under the age of 18.

“The systems are in place. Enforcement orders, to the best of my knowledge, exist and the court has done its utmost best, but to the best of my knowledge, a lot of the fathers are just not in a position to carry out their duties.

“Most of the complaints that I get are from fathers who feel that they are being harassed, or the amount that they are being asked to pay, they just can’t afford. So a lot of the fathers are behind in their payments and when you say, ‘Go back to the court and explain,’ the court literally tells them ‘try your best’,” said Chuck.

*Ida Moore is one of many Jamaican women who have had to take their partners to court for child maintenance.

She is owed more than $1 million and feels the system is failing her children because, she claims, contrary to a prevailing belief, an inability to pay is not the cause of her circumstances. She believes some fathers just do not care.

Moore said she has been in the court system since 2014 because her ex-boyfriend refuses to support their two daughters, ages 11 and five. A business owner, he was ordered by the court to pay $4,000 a week for each. She said he immediately went overseas, as he is a green card holder, so no payment was given or collected.

THE SYSTEM ISN’T FAIR

“I took the issue back to Family Court to let them know he wasn’t paying, and each time there was a date to show up he was missing. The system is like this, you have to wait for him to default on six consecutive payments in order for you to take out a warrant for him,” said Moore.

A warrant was issued but he was not on the island and was not served. On his return, he was arrested.

“It took him two years to pay off over $200,000 owed at the time, but while he was paying off that overdue amount he should have been making his regular payments. He hasn’t been doing that, and so now owes about two years in child maintenance fees,” said Moore.

Moore is a contract worker and works only six months for the year. She said even though his business has expanded, he’s asking the court to reduce the monthly payments.

“I would want a fairer system. Suppose I couldn’t seek my way out for my girls? How is the system helping my kids? The justice system is not working; it’s not doing what it’s supposed to do. What happen to some other women who don’t have it? That means their children won’t go to school, that mean seh food nah go eat? No, that a stupidness,” said Moore.

For other women who feel the same about the system, they are now heading to the steps of their partners’ employers asking for assistance. However, David Wan, president of the Jamaica Employers’ Federation, said employers ought to be careful.

“I would tread very carefully if I were an employer, because you have no right to take that money out of the man’s pay. You have no legal right, but if she has a court order then she should write to the employer so that it can be on record, and the employer would deduct the money as directed by the court order,” said Wan.

carlene.davis@gleanerjm.com