As of the end of August, there was close to $47 million in arrears in unpaid child support payments through Bermuda’s courts.
While delivering the 2017 Speech From The Throne on Friday, Governor John Rankin told a packed audience under the tent on the Cabinet grounds, that the new Progressive Labour Party administration plans to clamp down on delinquent parents in arrears.
“As of August 29th, 2017, the arrears of child support payments in Bermuda stands at $46.7 million for 1,840 outstanding cases,” said the Governor.
“Therefore, this Government will ensure full compliance by those who are ordered to pay child support, but refuse to do so. However, there are some parents who, due to the economy, temporary employment, or other factors, have built up arrears and may even have been incarcerated as a result, but are now trying to reduce their arrears and financially support their children.”
Moving forward, he said the Government “will undertake a thorough assessment of the Child Support System to analyse the deficiencies of its enforcement measures to create new enforcement options”. And “access to alternative dispute resolution will be simplified so that a resolution is more quickly achieved for the child’s benefit”.
“The overall goal is to improve enforcement measures to minimise delinquency,” he said. But he noted however, that while “there are many parents who, either through circumstances or choices, are not living with their children and have been ordered through the Courts to provide financial support”, in some cases, he said: “The parent has abandoned all parental responsibility, and punishments that come from breaching an order are required.”
Amendments to the Children Act 1998 “to achieve a greater degree of protection and care for children” are also planned to protect the rights of children left in the centre of ongoing custody battles between feuding parents.
“In a great many cases involving care and custody disputes, parties each have litigators and advisors representing their interests, while the child often does not have the same,” said Governor Rankin.
“Accordingly, the Act will be amended to enhance the existing protocol that assigns a Litigation Guardian to children whose custody, care, or control is before the Courts.
“The guardian will ensure the interests of the child are fairly represented in the Courts, and that any subsequent orders or findings are respected by all parties.
“In addition, the Government will expand the duty to investigate under the Children Act 1998, giving the Director of Child and Family Services the ability to enter public or private schools rather than only the Department of Education. The Act will also be amended to indicate that case reporters are not required to receive consent from a parent or guardian to investigate, especially when the allegation involves a parent or guardian.”
The new administration also plans to “selectively release information” on high-risk convicted sex offenders.
“When sex offenders have been tried and convicted, to help prevent the tragedy of sex crimes being repeated, the Government will selectively release information pertaining to sex offenders to members of the public. Offenders and the disclosure of their information will be managed according to the risk they pose to the public,” said Governor Rankin.
“Since the election, the new Government has created a ‘Protocol on Disclosure of Information on Identifying Sex Offenders’ and this will be distributed amongst stakeholders to formalise a systematic approach to minimising the risks posed to the public by high-risk offenders.”