Legislative Council Panel on Home AffairsIntroduction
Intermediary bodies for the collection and
enforcement of maintenance payments
At its meeting held in March 1998, the Panel on Home Affairs requested the Research and Library Services Division of the Legislative Council Secretariat to carry out a research on the operation and effectiveness of overseas intermediary bodies responsible for the collection and enforcement of maintenance payments.
2. This paper sets out the Administration's response to the research paper on the one hand and advises Members of the measures Government has taken to enhance the enforcement of maintenance payments on the other.
3. The experience of child support agencies in the United States of America, Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom shows that such an intermediary body is not as effective as its supporters have claimed.
United States of America
4. Despite the wide power given to the child support agencies, there was still an outstanding debt of around US$45,000 million for the year 1995-96.
5. There was an outstanding debt of US$313 million for the year 1996-97. About 40% of the child support debts are of two years old and an amount of US$35.2 million has been written off as uncollectable debts since the establishment of the Child Support Agency in 1988.
6. About 40% of parents registered with the child support agency choose to pay and collect privately while 24% of parents administer their own child support schemes without the assistance of the Child Support Agency.
7. The objective of the Australian Child Support Scheme was revised in July 1998 to incorporate the following principles :
- both parents should continue to be encouraged to make suitable arrangements without Government involvement;
- the Scheme should emphasise the responsibility of both parents and the need to limit the extent of Commonwealth involvement; and
- both parents should have maximum input to decisions affecting their children in the development of future child support policy and legislation.
8. The Child Support Agency is conducting a trial scheme to sub-contract collection of old debts to the private sector.
9. About 77% of the child support debts are classified as uncollectable and the outstanding debts for the year 1995-96 stood at US$1,468 million.
Remedies available to maintenance payees
10. In Hong Kong, assistance and remedies available to maintenance payees who do not receive maintenance payments at present include -
- they may apply to the court for a judgment summons to enforce the maintenance orders. Special slots are reserved in the Family Courts' diaries to hear such applications. The waiting time for hearing judgment summonses has been reduced to about two months on average;
- they may apply to the court for an Attachment of Income Order to attach a maintenance payer's income where he has an attachable income and defaults in payment without reasonable excuse; or
- they may apply for other legal remedies to enforce a maintenance order, including a Prohibition Order preventing the defaulting party from leaving Hong Kong; and a Charging Order to secure payment of maintenance against the defaulting party's property. In the event of continued non-payment, the court can order disposal of the property concerned, the proceeds of which will be used to meet maintenance payments due.
11. Maintenance payees who are in financial difficulties and who cannot afford private legal services may apply for legal aid. Since September 1997, legal aid applications for matrimonial cases could be processed within a matter of days and this include applications for enforcement of maintenance orders if all the necessary information for enforcement were supplied by the applicants.
12. Furthermore, maintenance payees who run into financial difficulties as a result of default in maintenance payments on the part of their spouse may apply for Comprehensive Social Security Assistance. Where urgent assistance is required, an application can be approved on the same day upon completion of investigation.
13. Our objective is to ensure that divorcees can collect their legal entitlements promptly and regularly. We believe that the measures which came into force since April 1998 can effectively alleviate or remove the difficulties divorcees faced in the past.
14. In April 1999 when the new system would have been in place for one year, we will review the system to identify areas for further improvements, and we hope to complete the review by the end of 1999.
Home Affairs Bureau
File Ref. : HAB/II/4/7
7 December 1998