THE ISSUE OF child support continues to be a sore point here in Grenada and despite numerous changes to the system there is still a tremendous amount of disservice being meted out to single parents, mothers in particular and their children.
Grenada has signed numerous protocols and enacted laws that are designed to improve the country’s child protection environment but while it all looks good on paper, getting parents to meet their maintenance obligations is still almost a daily struggle.
According to the laws of Grenada both parents are legally responsible for fifty percent of the resources required to take care of each child but this balance does not seem to exist for hundreds of mothers.
One of the offending aspects of the system is that up to now Grenada does not have a court designated to hear family matters including cases of child support.
When a mother or a father takes the offending parent to court the matter is listed together with civil cases. This means that child support cases are not heard until all other matters have been dealt with, particularly if there are lawyers involved, which is normally so.
Parents are expected to wait outside of the court house for hours at a time, missing time from their jobs in many cases in order to have a court make a determination on how much money their child should receive from its father, or mother.
The Department of Social Development gets involved in child support cases once they are filed with the court. The system allows for automatic reporting to social development so that a process of mediation can take place before going to a magistrate.
However, even that does not appear to be fair, as social workers seem more interested to protecting the rights of fathers instead of the rights of the children.
Mothers are also expected to source and provide evidence to the court of where the father is employed and how much he is earning. Without an order from a court this is impossible so even when a parent is absolutely sure of the income of the other they are forced to accept whatever little the father tells the court he can afford.
In order to successfully sue for and receive reasonable child support a mother may have to hire a lawyer to litigate the matter and apply for the necessary records that would prove their claim can be met.
But for a mother, struggling to put food on the table, this takes away her ability to get what her child or children deserve.
There is also the situation where fathers simply ignore the court order to pay while the amount piles up. Currently in the court system hundreds of thousands of dollars are owed by parents who are not adhering to court ordered child support payments. There are individuals who have not paid for a decade and owing in excess of seventy thousand dollars.
Despite the threat of jail, which comes with refusing to adhere to a court order, compliance is at an all time low. While people say constantly, “a man need to mind his child”, women who choose to take another parent to court are sometimes ridiculed and accused of using the system to terrorize the other person. It does not seem to matter that they believe a father should “mind” his children. The moment a woman chooses to use the law to defend her children’s right to financial support she is viewed by some as making trouble.
Maybe it is time for us in Grenada to begin to put our money where our mouth is and make a genuine effort to bring some dignity into the system, so that fathers might be encouraged to take their responsibility to heart.
There must be a greater effort by the court and the department of social services to have child support payments deducted by employers and to have fathers suffer the very real consequence of sitting in jail until they have paid what has been ordered.
How we handle this issue is directly related to the society we build. When mothers and children feel oppressed and burdened by the very system that is there for their protection society becomes just a little bit weaker.
We pride ourselves on rising above our lean circumstances and making something good of ourselves and there are those who would relish the fact that they can survive the struggle and raise their children without help from the other parent. But that is adult pride. It has nothing to do with what is right and what is legal. Because of our attitudes and beliefs, we seem to give the impression that raising children is the mother’s job, while the father’s job is to sow his oats and make regular installments at the “rum shop”.