Tougher laws urged for deadbeat dads

Two women’s rights advocacy groups are calling for tougher laws to deal with fathers that don’t pay child maintenance payments.

They were speaking after Cabinet member Alden McLaughlin confirmed Friday that the Government planned to bring amendments to the Maintenance and Affiliation laws before the Legislative Assembly by the year’s end.

Mr McLaughlin did not give any further details about the contents of the amendments, which he first flagged in the Legislative Assembly in July 2004 in a motion that was seconded by Kurt Tibbetts.

But according to representatives of the Cayman Islands Women’s Resource Centre and the Cayman Islands Crisis Centre, they need to include enforcement measures to ensure deadbeat fathers can’t simply refuse to pay.

‘We often see here that women will be awarded their maintenance and never see it,’ said Carol Graham of the Women’s Crisis Centre.

Single mothers that are struggling to make ends meet rarely have the money to hire an attorney to pursue non-paying fathers through the courts, she explained. The fact that legal-aid is not available in these cases only compounds the problem, she said.

This in turn can force the mothers to make desperate decisions to get by.

‘We often see women that are trying to maintain a life free of violence for their children feeling financially forced to go back into a domestic violence situation for survival,’ Mrs. Graham said.

According to Cindy Blekaitis, a councillor at the Women’s Resource Centre, there is also a trend amongst some fathers that have maintenance orders made against them to just quit working to avoid their obligations.

‘In other cases I have heard of men saying they are not going to pay unless they get sex – just using the children as a bargaining chip to get what they want.’

Both say they would like to see the new amendments give courts more power to coercively remove or garnish the wages of fathers that are unreliable with maintenance payments.

This should include communications being made with the man’s employer, explaining that wages have to be deducted because he has not complied with maintenance laws, they said.

‘That would also get rid of the dispute about ‘oh, I did pay her’ or ‘I brought food and clothes for the kids’,’ Mrs. Graham said.

‘Those things don’t pay the rent; they don’t pay the electricity bill or the medical bills.’

Another common complaint Mrs. Blekaitis hears from her clients is that the application process takes too long.

‘Of course, many clients don’t start asking for help until things have gotten pretty desperate. For them, it needs to happen yesterday,’ she explained.

‘Then they need to lean on social services, or family, or the church or places that may not be well enough resourced to cope with them.’

For women that have required some encouragement to stand up for their rights, it can be quite demoralising to see the court process impotent in making fathers live up to their responsibilities, Mrs. Blekaitis explained.

‘It is up to the recipient to be empowered enough to follow through on making the father accountable to the order, which can be quite difficulty with many of the women we see.

‘After one too many bad experiences, they tend to give up.’

FYI

• The Cayman Islands Women’s Resource Center run a legal advice clinic every Tuesday and a phone-in legal advice service every Friday.

• For more information of the Cayman Islands Women’s Resource Centre, visit www.wrc.gov.ky or call 949-0006

• For more information on the Cayman Islands Crisis Centre call 949-0366

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