EDITORIAL Child support system needs reform

Wednesday, 15th April 2015 by THE BVI BEACON

EDITORIAL Child support system needs reform

EDITORIAL — Child support system needs reform

Given some parents’ struggles to obtain child support payments in the Virgin Islands, we’re glad that reforms are in the works that should help simplify their task. We hope significant progress will come soon.

As reported in our page one article, the parents’ obstacles are wide ranging. Part of the problem is legal: Under existing laws, the only available punishments for delinquents are a fine or imprisonment, which some parents are reluctant to see imposed on an ex-partner.
In many other countries, the law offers alternative recourses, such as garnishing wages, seizing property, suspending driving privileges, or requiring community service.

The VI may come around soon. A Child Maintenance and Access Act, which presumably will address such issues, is expected to come before Cabinet by the end of June, according to government.

This is good news. We hope that the law will come to the House of Assembly in short order, and that the final version will reform the child-support process in keeping with international best practice.

Other parents have complained about administrative challenges in obtaining payments.

Complaints Commissioner Elton Georges said recently that he has heard as many as a dozen such complaints in the past six years.

Here again, help may be on the way. The Magistrates’ Court recently told the HOA’s Standing Finance Committee that a campaign is planned to educate the public about the child support system.
This is welcome news — education, we believe, could help immensely — and we hope the programme gets under way soon.

We were also glad to hear Mr. Georges say that the Magistrates’ Court has been responsive to recent complaints forwarded by his office. In the process of handling such complaints, we trust that the court will iron out any shortcomings on its part.

Leaders should also ensure that the court has sufficient resources to properly handle such responsibilities.

In recent years, the territory has come a long way in protecting children’s rights. The Constitution, which was a good start, has been followed by other legislation, as well as recent child abuse and domestic violence protocols. Moreover, there has been increasing attentiveness to such issues, including this month’s observance of Child Abuse Prevention and Awareness Month.

Further reforming the child support system should be added to the list as soon as possible.

However, no matter how sound the legal framework or how well administered the existing rules, there will always be challenges in collecting money from people who don’t want to pay up.

Ultimately, then, the onus will be on parents to follow through. There are some 1,800 child support files before the Magistrates’ Court, and the children involved in those cases cannot do it for themselves.