Divorced fathers must give cash, even to rich mothers

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The Independent Online
A RADICAL shake-up of child-support rules could be "a cash bonanza for house-husbands", a leading divorce lawyer says.

But the proposed change could hit poor men the most.

A proposed new formula for calculating contributions to a child's upkeep after a break-up no longer takes account of a woman's wealth. Instead, working fathers would pay a fixed percentage contribution, whatever their overall income.

If they have just one child, a basic 15 per cent of their net pay would go towards maintenance, rising incrementally depending on the number of children.

It is also proposed that the current "cap" on a father's contribution be abolished. For three or more children, a father would have to pay 25 per cent.

For example, under the formula, dancer Jimmy Gulzar, estranged husband of pop star Scary Spice, would have to pay her pounds 4,500 of his estimated pounds 30,000 income for their child, although the star is reputed to earn pounds 3m a year. Mick Jagger would pay Jerry Hall 25 per cent of net income for their four children, despite her wealth.

Solicitor Toby Yerburgh, a former member of Prince Charles's divorce team, said: "At the moment, where the wife is rich, the husband can comfort himself that he will not have to pay too much in the way of maintenance for the children, as under the Child Support Act formula the wives' earnings are taken into account."

He warned: "Men who marry rich women, like Scary Spice, whose marriage appears to be on the rocks, may find themselves in for a nasty surprise when it all goes wrong, especially when there are children involved."

The new rules, which are expected to be introduced next year, are the subject of a Department of Social Services consultation paper, will do away with a complex formula involving 200 variables for calculating child- maintenance. Mr Yerburgh said lawyers believed house-husbands could be in for a "cash bonanza". A man who looks after the children will receive up to 25 per cent of the mother's pay.

But Tanya Roberts, a Child Support Act specialist at law firm Charles Russell, was concerned about the changes. "

The new system will be arbitrary with a dad's salary being a straight percentage going towards the maintenance of each child,"she said. "In that sense it may not be fairer." She also felt the loss of the maximum limit to the size of the contribution could mean fathers potentially paying massive and unrealistic amounts of money in support of their children.

"At the beginning the concept of the Child Support Act was good. The difficulty has always been in the way it has been used in practice. Over the last few years the system has been improved by various changes that have come into effect. Now it seems we are starting again."