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February 13, 2009
SVG men owe thousands in child support

Delinquent fathers are causing the Family Services Division (FSD) and the Family Court no end of headaches.{{more}}

“It is a matter of worthlessness!” That’s how Family Court President Colleen Mc Donald describes the situation of the non-payment of maintenance by these fathers, saying that the problem is a chronic one.

Figures from September to December 2008 alone gave an idea of a situation that is indeed a calamitous one.

For those four months mentioned, the Family Court had to issue 133 warrants for the arrest of these dead-beat dads, who between them owed a combined $49, 322.55.

The numbers are worse at the Family Services Division, where there are men who have not paid agreed maintenance for years and owe up to $7,000. A sample of four case files in 2008 (The identity of the parties in these files was not disclosed) show combined arrears of over $25,000.

Maintenance Officer in the FSD, Lou-Ann Boyde, told SEARCHLIGHT that her office is in the midst of going through all the files so that they could ascertain the situation with those that go back years.

Boyde explained that the system at the FSD is different from that at the Family Court. She intimated that couples will come voluntarily to the FSD and make agreements for payments of maintenance rather than go through the courts.

She further stated that in some cases the feuding…

couple may alter the agreement and deal directly with each other after a while, which may result in the files showing arrears.

“That is why we are trying to sort them through to know where we really are,” Boyde said.

She, however, told SEARCHLIGHT that there is enough evidence from the recent files to show that the problem of maintenance isn’t imagined, but very real and extremely sad.

Both Boyde and Mc Donald told SEARCHLIGHT that despite what people may believe, the delinquency in the fathers often has nothing to do with unemployment.

“From the cases I see, most of the time it isn’t about unemployment. They just turn their back and don’t look back,” said Boyde.

“They have the money, because when they are picked up on a warrant and taken around to the prison, they pay the money,” said Mc Donald.

While Mc Donald said that she usually advises men to pay what they could when things are slow with them, Boyde said that often the men don’t even want anything to do with the children.

“What jumps out is the lack of interest some of these guys show towards their children,” Boyde said sadly.

“It is serious. In fact, I regard it as a serious form of child abuse…it is as bad as if you physically abuse that child,” weighed in Director of the FSD, Cammie Matthews, speaking on the Programme Prime Time on K45.

Matthews said that while the files in the FSD and the Family Court reveal a vexing situation, it is much worse in reality.

He said there are still many women who hold on to the myth that “if they take a child’s father to the FSD or the Family Court, they will be blighting that child. Believe it or not, people still believe that,” Matthews said.

As she addressed the problem with SEARCHLIGHT, Mc Donald also stressed the need for urgent change to legislation dealing with these issues.

As it stands now, a woman or guardian of the child will have to come back to the court so that the court can order that collection of the arrears on a warrant.

“Just the other day a lady came to the court and asked that the order be discharged,” Mc Donald explained.

She said that when she inquired about this request the lady complained about the process.

“She said she is tired and fed up. We need a system where the delinquent father could be ordered to court by the department,” Mc Donald said, noting that Trinidad and Tobago has a similar system.

When SEARCHLIGHT spoke to Boyde earlier this week, she had over 40 files of delinquency on her desk and gave the assurance that every effort was being made to contact these fathers so that a true picture could be had on the situation.

This is so that fathers who have been supporting the children directly, even after an agreement is made could be noted. She explained that some older files don’t have phone numbers, which is making it difficult to track down the parties involved.