Inevitably, my decision to hand responsibility for collecting child maintenance from E has created another problem. But, do you know what? I’m still massively glad that I did it.
The main reason I’m glad is that it means I no longer have to deal with E. The reason it’s a problem is because, well, the CMS have now failed to collect any child maintenance payments since October (whether this is down to E or the CMS remains to be seen).
When I went back to the CMS, before collecting anything from E, they had to make sure that all their records were up to date. They weren’t – mainly because they’d not recorded the initial arrears payment E had made to me when we sold the house. I had written and told them about it, but it was all mid pandemic – they were taking ‘up to 12 weeks’ to get back to people and you couldn’t call at all (well, you couldn’t call if you were a receiving parent, the lines were open for paying parents, obviously). But, even with this taken into account, E had built up some new arrears and had been consistently underpaying what the CMS told me he should be paying for the last couple of years. I wasn’t really worried about being paid the arrears, I was more concerned about establishing a regular monthly sum, paid on the same date each month, that I could account for and rely on for the next couple of years.
However, it seems the CMS weren’t aware that E had had another child (this did actually surprise me, because I honestly thought that telling them about this would be one of the first things E would do – along with registering the birth – after the baby was born, but, apparently not). This meant that they recalculated what E should pay – and then backdated this by two and a half years. Because he earns so much, this meant that it not only knocked out his remaining arrears but it meant that he’d ‘overpaid’. Of course, I didn’t have this overpayment sitting around in a bank account (on the contrary), but the recalculation meant that the CMS were not now inclined to try and collect anything from him for the remainder of the year, so I was, once again dependent upon E’s goodwill (and I think we all know what that means). At this point I was quite grateful for his consistent underpaying, as it meant that his accumulated overpayment only amounted to a few months’ worth of maintenance payments and meant that E would still have to pay me a regular amount until Youngest Son left school.
Fortunately, for me, my ‘CMS year’ runs from November to October (because I’d first contacted them in November 2019), so, when I called, they assured me that the ‘overpayment’ was for the period up to October 2022, and that from November 2022, there would be a new annual calculation. This would take into account the overpayment, but as this was less than 1/4 of E’s total annual obligation, there should still be a monthly amount owing. I assumed that they’d just net off the overpayment and recalculate the monthly payments so that the annual obligation was evenly split over a year and thus ensure that I received a monthly child maintenance payment. This, it seems, was far too sensible an assumption for the CMS, and I’ve now not received anything since October 2022.
I’ve called the CMS, monthly, since November and, each time, I’ve been told I’ll receive a payment ‘next month’. Fortunately, unlike the last time E withdrew child maintenance (and defaulted on the mortgage just to add to the pressure I was under), I’m not financially dependent upon E’s payments anymore. Don’t get me wrong, without his payments things are really tough, but I can afford to pay my rent and bills and eat. Non-payment is not hurting me at all. I know that (eventually) the CMS will collect what he owes, and I can wait. But, as ever, the only people he’s hurting are his kids. Youngest Son needs clothes, a haircut, things for school. Oldest Son is at University, and, whilst he gets a full student loan, his rent and food bills pretty much wipe that out, meaning he needs extra money for books, travel, living. Oldest Daughter is also at University – she’s working three or four jobs just to pay her bills and eat, and I can’t help her. Youngest Daughter and her partner are pretty independent financially, but they’ve got two young kids and don’t earn much, and I try to help them when I can. At the end of the day our four children still need our support, and (once again) E is failing them and I’m shouldering the entire burden. The thing is, it’s not like he’s short of a bob or two (unless, of course, he’s still as mired in debt as he was when he was with me), his salary is in six figures, he earns more in a week than I earn in a month. It really shouldn’t be a big ask to request that he contributes towards financially supporting his children.
The renewed lack of financial support is, of course, compounded by the fact that he’s not seen any of them for over two years now. It occurred to me the other day that Youngest Son has changed so much in the last two years (not just in height – at 6′ 2″, he now towers over all of us – but facially, he’s lost the boyishness that he had when E last saw him) that E probably wouldn’t recognise him if he passed him in the street now. All of them feel this abandonment. On the rare occasions that he mentions E, Oldest Son refuses to even call him dad and refers to him by his first name. Oldest Daughter makes ‘absent father’ jokes, but she once told me that in some ways it would be easier to come to terms with not seeing her father if he were dead – at least then she’d know why he didn’t see her. The fact that he’s alive and well and living in London, makes it impossible for any of them to comprehend why he won’t see them. Youngest Son hasn’t passed his new phone number onto his dad, so we don’t even know if E’s tried to contact him. Youngest Daughter is in sporadic touch with him – via text – but he’s never met his grandchildren and she’s very much of the opinion that she’ll keep him updated every now and then, but anything further is up to him and he has, predictably, failed even here – despite knowing when she was due, he hasn’t even asked Youngest Daughter if his granddaughter has been born – and she’s four weeks old now. I can’t even begin to imagine how that must feel. My parents are such an important part of my children’s lives, I can’t comprehend how much it must hurt to know that your own father doesn’t even think it worthy of notice that he has a new grandchild. The fact that my grandson would be absolutely astonished to learn that he has two grandfathers is grimly funny, but also terribly, terribly sad.
And so, we wait. Of course, it’s entirely possible that E has made payments and the CMS haven’t passed them on to me (this is the CMS so pretty much anything is possible), and the fact I think that E hasn’t paid anything just shows the impact that the previous withholding of maintenance has had on me mentally. But experience suggests that’s probably not the case (just because I’m not paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not out to get me…). Either way, I’m not going to be sucked back into that vortex of self-doubt and panic that his lack of financial support caused before. I’m also trying not to blame myself. I’m sure one of the things E thought when he was informed he’d ‘overpaid’ was that this ‘served me right’ for going to the CMS, but I know it doesn’t, I know it’s not my fault. This, or some other game with the money, would have happened anyway (after all, until I went to the CMS, I was having to pretty much beg him to make a payment every month. I was already being manipulated). I can now see E’s previous refusal to pay child maintenance for what it was – a form of abuse and a form of control. A report by Women’s Aid in 2015 explained; “As a form of control, financial abuse involves using or misusing money so as to limit and control the partner’s current and future actions and freedom of choice.” If that’s what he’s doing again, I’m not playing. I refuse to be controlled by E. I refuse to blame myself for any decision to not pay child maintenance. I refuse to be manipulated and feel the fear that a withdrawal of child maintenance is designed to make me feel. I’ve been there before, and I have no intention of ever going there again.
Anyway, if E feels he’s won some sort of victory on this one, he’s welcome to his moment, because this isn’t a game, or at least it’s not a game I’m playing anymore. The CMS might be a nightmare, but they’ve finally separated me from E and any remaining influence he had on my life. The only way E could continue to have any control over me and how I was feeling, at all was through the money and he just can’t do that anymore.
If I was playing, I’d say that was a win.