Mothers vent anger as ex-partners left in the clear

Mary Braid talks to working women left chasing errant fathers for maint enance
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The Independent Online
Roz Hubley, a freelance PR consultant, has raised her son Daniel, 13, alone since her former partner stopped maintenance payments before their child was out of nappies. Ms Hubley takes pride in the way Daniel has turned out and had her business not run into difficulties in 1992, forcing her on benefits, she would have continued to raise him with no help from his father. She would also have remained ignorant of her rightto maintenance and unaware of the shortcomings of the CSA and might have even retained some respect for men.

Yesterday Ms Hubley was incensed by the Government's decision not to pursue the former partners of working single mothers. By drawing a distinction between them and mothers receiving benefit, she argued, the CSA has lost any remnants of its claim to justice and the moral high ground and allowed thousands of men to escape their responsibilities.

Although Ms Hubley is no longer receiving benefits she has continued to pursue Daniel's father. She earns £25,000 in a good year. She believes her former partner, a diver, earns at least £60,000. Some contribution was, she argues, only fair.

"When Daniel's father was first contacted about maintenance he denied parentage. Until then he had had a sporadic relationship with his son. Daniel has not seen his father since he failed to turn up for his birthday two years ago.''

Despite proving parentage in court, Ms Hubley is yet to receive a penny from her former partner. When she was receiving benefits the CSA claimed to be pursuing her case. "If they drop my case now I will sue them. The last two years have been traumatic but I am doing this for Daniel. If I don't fight for him no one else will."

Louise Ryan, a single mother from Plymouth, warned yesterday that the ruling could force many working women back on benefits.

Ms Ryan was deserted by her husband - a marine - in 1987, when their two boys were under two. Her husband suddenly stopped making maintenance payments four years ago. The CSA has failed to force him to support her two sons or another family he has since fathered and deserted.

Ms Ryan works full-time but earns so little her income is supplemented with family credit. She claims maintenance could make her up to £50 a week better off and make her independent of benefits.

She says many women in her position - marginally better off working - will go back on benefits now that the CSA has reneged on its promise to make their absent partners pay. "The CSA has lost sight of its basic principle. It is hard to see what can be salvaged now."

But yesterday's announcement delighted Sue Kirby, 47, a secretary, and her husband Ken, 45, a British Transport policeman. The couple, married for nine years, are raising her son, 15, from a previous marriage. They believe the CSA would have demanded they pay more for Ken's son, also 15, from a previous marriage. The prospect of the ensuing battle had already led to arguments between the two boys, who attend the same school.

"We were very concerned," Sue said. "Ken's former wife had made it clear she wanted more although she and her second husband work. We expected to have the current maintenance of £55 a week increased to at least £70. We agree with the general principle ofa man paying for his children but not to the detriment of a second family."

Yesterday a spokeswoman for the National Council for Single Parents said that the "deferment" of cases involving mothers not receiving benefits undermined one of its basic reasons for supporting the CSA.

The agency was to have sought maintenance in such cases so that women could pay for services like childcare and return to work. She said it was ironic that these women were now being told to return to the same courts which had proved so unsatisfactory.