Couple split to cut child support rise: Two families react to the pressure of maintenance rulings by government agency

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The Independent Online
A COUPLE have legally separated in an attempt to avoid the husband having to pay greatly increased maintenance to his first wife and son.

Peter and Pat Bartlett took the step just five days before their second wedding anniversary, after the controversial Child Support Agency ordered the amount should rise from pounds 75 to pounds 341 a month. The couple, who live in Chester-le-Street in Co Durham, feel the move is the only way of reducing the CSA's assessment.

'I am not prepared to go to work to support my husband's ex-wife,' Mrs Bartlett, 49, a secretary, said. 'We objected to my salary being considered in the assessment of what Peter has to pay.

'We decided we had no alternative but to separate. We have separate houses to live in. It was a very traumatic step, but while we could afford the payment, it would leave us very little above the income support level.'

Mr Bartlett, 46, an insurance clerk, said that his divorce led to his first wife receiving most of the cash from the sale of their house, its contents and their fish-and-chip shop business. She was now living on income support and the demand that he should increase his payment to her by more than four times came after she made a claim to the CSA.

A CSA spokeswoman last night warned there was no point in a couple separating because this would not reduce the amount a husband was required to pay to his first wife. This was because the income of the second wife of an 'absent parent' was not taken into account when maintenance was assessed. Her details were sought only as protection, so that the second family did not fall below protected-income levels.