Crackdown on 'deadbeat dads'
By Tony Vermeer

THE child-support scheme is set to be overhauled with new figures revealing fathers owe more than $750 million in unpaid maintenance.

A crackdown on so-called "deadbeat dads" by a special unit of the Child Support Agency has so far recovered $19million of the debt in the past year.

But it hardly made a dent in the accumulated amount owed by separated parents, mostly men, which stands at $752million since the scheme began in 1988.

Figures for 2003-2004 showed 41 per cent of fathers pay $5 or less a week in maintenance, in many cases because they are unemployed.

The agency has established an Intensive Debt Recovery team with 100 extra staff to try to recover outstanding child-support payments, and in the past 11 months has contacted 15,000 parents who owe money.

The agency has the power to garnishee wages and withhold tax refunds from parents who fail to pay maintenance.

But fathers' groups say the system is unfair and have called for a revamp.

The Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Larry Anthony, said he was setting up a task force to undertake a "comprehensive re-evaluation" of the scheme, with a report due next March.

The terms of reference are yet to be finalised, but Lone Fathers Association president Barry Williams wants it to look at making the scheme fairer to non-custodial parents.

Mr Williams said fathers were often left with nothing to live on because payments, beginning at 18 per cent for the first child, were made from pre-tax income.

Single mother Aya Christie, 32, praised the move to make partners more accountable.

"Being a single parent is tremendously difficult," the Neutral Bay designer and mother of Zen, 7, said.,5936,10307320%255E421,00.html