Fathers 'are escaping CSA net by denying paternity': Solicitors advise men of way to block maintenance claims from single mothers

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The Independent Online
ABSENT fathers are using the denial of paternity as an escape route to avoid paying maintenance, it has been claimed. It is believed that some solicitors are advising fathers to do this in the hope that the Child Support Agency will not pursue the claim against them.

A spokeswoman for the National Council for One Parent Families said single mothers were being put in an impossible situation by the CSA's policy of pursuing only 'cost-effective' cases where fathers denied paternity.

'A lot of women in this situation are saying very strongly to us that the implication which follows a denial of paternity - that they were sleeping around - is very painful,' a spokeswoman for the council said. CSA figures show that up to 1,000 lone women are in dispute over paternity.

The alleged father can be taken to court to establish the truth, often using DNA tests which cost about pounds 500. However, the agency is reluctant to incur the court and DNA test costs unless there is very strong evidence. When the single mother is not on benefit, it refuses to act at all. This can leave the child without a name and the mother without maintenance.

Although women on low incomes can apply for legal aid to pursue the claim privately, this is less likely to be granted if the legal aid board knows the CSA refused to act.

Depending on the amount of maintenance, the mother on benefit may also fail the legal aid test by which the client gains financially by the action: benefits are reduced pound for pound by the amount the absent parent is made to pay.

In August, Peter Lilley, the Secretary of State for Social Security, ruled out asking men disputing paternity to pay court costs, saying: 'It would be unreasonable to ask a man who was subsequently shown not to be the absent parent to pay to prove his case.'

But a council spokeswoman said: 'We feel very strongly the CSA should be seen to be taking these cases to court. If they fall at the first hurdle it will become an open loophole and the whole thing will founder. It is giving grounds to men all over the country to deny paternity to get off the hook.'

Some lone parents who have found themselves with ex-partners denying paternity and a refusal to act on their behalf by the CSA are using a different way to get maintenance. This involves getting legal aid to claim a lump sum from the father in the courts. If he continues to deny paternity, DNA tests can be ordered.

One woman, who asked not to be named, said a clerk in a local court had told her about the law. 'My ex- partner agreed to DNA tests but the Child Support Agency wouldn't pay for them. This way at least I can establish paternity and get some maintenance,' she said.