The Family Law Acts place a legal obligation on parents to maintain their children. In cases where the family unit has broken down these obligations continue to apply. Relevant maintenance payments can be arranged either directly between the parties themselves, or with the assistance of supports from the Department of Justice and Equality, such as the Family Mediation Service and the Legal Aid Board, or ultimately through the Courts. The enforcement of the obligation on parents to maintain their children is currently a matter for the Department Justice and Equality.
Within my own Department, the Social Welfare Acts provide that where certain welfare payments are in place (specifically, one-parent family payment, known as OFP) an assessment may be made against a ‘liable relative’ requiring them to make a contribution in respect of maintenance.
In every case where OFP is awarded, the Department seeks to trace the other parent or liable relative in order to ascertain whether s/he is in a financial position to contribute towards the cost of the OFP.
The methods of assessment of the liable relatives ability to pay are specified in detail in Regulations (S.I. 571 of 2006 and S.I. 142 of 2007). The financial situation of each liable relative is assessed in detail. The assessment is based on the net weekly income (i.e. income from all sources less income tax and PRSI). Any maintenance currently being paid to the OFP recipient is also taken into account.
All liable relatives who are assessed with a maintenance liability are issued with a Maintenance Contribution Assessment setting out the amount assessed. The amount assessed can be reviewed where new information comes to light about the financial or household circumstances of the liable relative. The liable relative can either commence/ increase the current payments to the OFP recipient or can make their contribution directly to the Department. Decisions on the amounts assessed can be appealed to the Social Welfare Appeals Office.
Any changes to the current arrangements would have to be considered in an overall policy and budgetary context.