Parents face a long wait

By BELINDA SCOTT

COFFS HARBOUR mother Arlette Auguste is hopeful, but not confident, that changes to child support payments may see her get some money from the father of her two children.

Coffs Harbour father Alan Valja says the changes will probably reduce his child support payments.

But neither parent will see anything different until 2008.

The major overhaul of the Federal Government's child support payment system announced this week is expected to affect almost all of the 726,000 families using the system, including Ms Auguste and Mr Valja.

"We're happy with what's been recommended," the founder of Dads in Distress, Coffs Harbour father Tony Miller, said yesterday.

"But the punchline is that the change to the formula is not happening until 2008, so our only concern is that people will be struggling for a long time to come."

The new formula will treat both parents' income and living costs equally and will recognise the higher costs of parenting teenagers, but will not come into effect until July 1, 2008.

The Australian Democrats said yesterday the changes would increase poverty.

"It's not helping the lower-income families," Ms Auguste said. "Their maintenance goes down."

Under the new rules custodial parents with children under 12 could lose money, but Ms Auguste gets none. She has been battling without success for some maintenance for her two children, aged 4 and 6, and is bitter that their father has just bought a new car and pays maintenance for the children of his first partner, but not to his second family.

"I go without a lot of things ? it might take me a year to get a new bra and it even affects the grandparents," she said. In her case both sets of grandparents help with school fees and birthdays, as does her former partner's brother.

By 2008, the new rules mean fathers paying child support for two or more families will have to pay $6 a week to each family.

Alan Valja is currently paying more than $510 a month in child support for his three children, who live with their mother. He says it has taken him seven years to work through the trauma and shame of leaving his wife and three children, even though he went through a year of feeling suicidal in his own house before he finally left.

His former wife has remarried and she and her new partner are financially comfortable, but Mr Valja has not had his child support payments reduced.

He says the new arrangements will 'free up the playing field' to some degree, because they take her income into account as well as his, although not her new partner's income. The changes come in three waves ? July, 2006, Janu- ary, 2007, and July, 2008.



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