An end to secrets and spying on dad: The pain of a 'kid in the middle' lingers

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Indy Lifestyle Online
THERE is something inherently evil about being asked to spy on your father when you are a child, and somehow that evil is made all the more sordid when it's your mother who asks you.

There is something incredibly unsettling about going off to university and being told you can't sign on for the courses because both your parents have refused to disclose their earnings to the local education authority. And there is something plain horrible about your mother charging you pounds 35 a week to stay with her during the student holidays, deducting it from your monthly cheque.

The Child Support Agency, which comes into being next month, should prevent stories like this. It will be able to compel absent fathers to pay maintenance to the mothers of their children without either party being forced to go court. The agency will be able to calculate exactly how much maintenance should be paid and will have the power to deduct money from a parent's earnings or benefit.

Although many are opposed to this new agency, saying that it is the Government's way of shirking its responsibilities and reaping an eventual pounds 600m a year saving in benefits to single mothers for the Treasury, I would have to disagree. As someone who spent her adolescence and late teens as the centre of parental arguments about money, an agency that could provide a buffer in such circumstances would be welcome.

My parents divorced when I was 15 and my sister 14. It did not come as much of a shock but nothing could have prepared us for the financial wranglings that were to follow. Year after year we would be the subject of heated telephone debates. Responsibility for us would be tossed backwards and forwards like a football - we would become 'his children' and 'her children'. When allowance time came round, his business would be 'doing badly' on paper but 'buoyant' when we went to stay for the weekend.

In her haste to leave my father, my mother had agreed to some proviso that she would not live with her new boyfriend. We persistently had to deny his existence and could never mention his name. He consequently did not answer the phone in the house just in case my father called and could never attend any school play or family event.

All hell broke loose when I inadvertently showed my father my CV with the boyfriend as my referee. It gave the whole game away.

My sister and I would not receive any money for months on end and then we would be paid double as both parties purged themselves of their guilt. They were constantly in and out of court rejigging the original alimony payments, with my mother ending up with progressively less. Whenever we needed something important, like a new winter coat or shoes for school, we were told to 'go and see your father and take him out for a good lunch'.

The Child Support Agency will provide an independent tribunal made up of accountants and bank managers to look through the finances of both parents and work out exactly how much each partner should be paying, making it harder for the father (they are the providers 9 times out of 10) to fluff his income and make sure that he has another bad year.

But perhaps the most exciting thing about the new system is that, since fathers will have to pay for their children, maybe - as with any other investment they make - they will take a greater interest in their welfare and growth.

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