Appendix 4: Results of the Families Commission survey

Background

In August 2009, the Families Commission released an issues paper entitled “What separating parents need when making care arrangements for their children”. This paper notes that in 2008 the Families Commission commissioned Colmar Brunton to undertake high-level research into a number of issues relating to separated parents. The issues included:

  • the different types of care and contact arrangements that separated parents make for their children and the factors that influence parents in making those arrangements;
  • the financial arrangements that separated parents make for the care of their children and the factors that influence their decisions in that area;
  • where applicable, an insight into how the expenditure for raising children can vary in different care and contact arrangements; and
  • families’ views on the characteristics of an equitable child support scheme.

Ten thousand surveys were posted to Inland Revenue’s child support and Working for Families parents, resulting in 1,602 completed responses. In addition, 50 separate in-depth interviews were carried out with parents who are party to a child-support relationship to gain their views on what a fairer child support scheme would be for them.

Key findings

Care and contact arrangements

The research yielded the following information on care and contact arrangements:

  • 51.9 percent of parents who pay child support (through voluntary arrangements as well as through the child support scheme) say they see their child at least a few days per fortnight, compared with 41.2 percent of receiving parents who say their child sees the paying parent at least a few days a fortnight (an average of 44.1 percent across both parent groups).
  • 48.3 percent of parents who pay child support (again, through voluntary arrangements as well as through the child support scheme) say their child stays overnight at their house at least a few days per fortnight, compared with 32.0 percent of receiving parents who say their child stays overnight at the paying parent’s home at least a few days a fortnight (an average of 36.4 percent).

Care and contact arrangements vary enormously depending on personal circumstances. Where parents can achieve agreement on these arrangements, other arrangements between the parents, including financial decisions, are more likely to also be agreed upon. Parents who have reached their own financial arrangements are more likely to have greater care and contact with their children. In addition, parents who reach private arrangements are more likely to:

  • take their child to school and also pick them up from after-school activities (47 percent, compared with 35 percent of those in the child support scheme);
  • pick their child up from school (45 percent, compared with 36 percent of those in the child support scheme); and
  • take care of their child while the other parent meets work commitments (43 percent, compared with 31 percent of those in the child support scheme).

This reflects the reality that the child support scheme, by its very nature, tends to deal with the more difficult situations when agreement cannot be reached.

Child support financial arrangements

Private arrangements for child support are often calculated by reference to the child support scheme formula. Thirty-two percent of parents making private arrangements say they gained assistance from Inland Revenue or used the formula to help work out their initial financial arrangement regarding their children, even though they did not take part in the child support scheme themselves.

Main costs incurred when caring for a child

The survey revealed the following information on the costs incurred when caring for a child:

  • 89 percent of children stay in a separate bedroom (whether shared with another child or not) when in overnight care with the paying parent.
  • Approximately 33 percent of receiving parents live more than 100 kilometres away from the other parent.

Other costs commonly incurred by both parents include food, bedroom furnishings, clothes, medical fees, school expenses, sports, music, hobbies, nappies, games or toys.

Views on the characteristics of an equitable child support scheme

The quantitative results on how satisfied parents are with their child support arrangement show:

  • 71 percent of receiving parents and 24 percent of paying parents in the child support scheme consider that the scheme does not work very well or at all well; and
  • 38 percent of receiving parents and 12 percent of paying parents in a private child support arrangement consider that their arrangement does not work very well or at all well.

Of those dissatisfied with the child support scheme, the research indicated that the current scheme does not adequately reflect the range of care arrangements parents enter into regarding their children (in particular, the costs incurred when care of a child is shared).