Regina Doherty to bring proposals for child maintenance agency to Cabinet

Regina Doherty to bring proposals for child maintenance agency to Cabinet

Child maintenance payments arrangements are to be reviewed in a bid to prevent difficult disputes and legal rows over contributions from parents.

Social Protection Minister, Regina Doherty, will tomorrow bring proposals for a child maintenance agency — the first of its kind — to Cabinet, the likely last meeting of this coalition before the election. Just seven items are on the agenda for the 9am meeting.

The Fine Gael minister wants the system, including arrangements around how a parent contributes to payments, reviewed. The system in future could be streamlined to prevent drawn-out disputes.

Ms Doherty will seek approval for a review group to examine if there is a case for a child maintenance agency. The review group will be chaired by former Circuit Court Judge Catherine Murphy.

Ms Doherty secured €150,000 in the budget for her department to examine international best practice for maintenance payments and how the system here could better suit families and the needs of children.

The membership of the group will include legal, policy and academic professionals as well as officials from the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection and from the Department of Justice.

Under the current law, parents are obliged to maintain and pay for their children. When parents break up, those payment obligations remain. Agreement can be reached between estranged partners or with the assistance of mediation or legal aid supports or ultimately through the courts.

Social welfare laws dictate that where welfare payments exist, a relative or parent may be required to contribute to them. The department currently can trace and examine if that relative can contribute.

The review group will look at the guidelines and rules in place for such payments and contributions and report back to the department by the end of 2020.

Meanwhile, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Tánaiste Simon Coveney are both expected to brief Cabinet members about the resumption of power-sharing in Stormont, after more than three years of political paralysis in the North.

An injection of funds has been promised by both the Irish and British governments for cross border projects, including for rail and road and health reforms.

This is also expected to be the coalition's last Cabinet meeting before Mr Varadkar decides to announce this week that the Dáil will be dissolved and an election held.

Mr Varadkar said at the weekend that he wanted to speak to Cabinet before revealing the date.

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