“They took away my children, my home, my dignity and my self-respect. They stole my life.”
The savage depravity of our family courts is hidden by an omnipresent cloak of secrecy which is designed to protect the system from closer scrutiny. Over the last decade we have witnessed cases of child sex abuse covered up, bedroom doors smashed down, children forcibly dragged away by court tip staff, fathers jailed for waving at their children and kids abducted with impunity by their mothers. The scale of the abuse is on an unimaginable scale. Despite repeated requests for the NSPCC to investigate these cases, they have refused to do so and have turned a blind eye to what may become the biggest child abuse scandal in our nations history.
My CSA Hell
In November of 2012 I split with my ex who I have a daughter with. I offered to pay maintenance straight away but she refused. I contacted the CSA to see if they would make her take my money and they told me “we can only process a claim if it comes from the mother”. Fair enough I thought, she doesn’t want my money, I’d done what I can. I thought it was over but a few months later I was forced to think again. Remember that word forced, it comes up quite a lot where the CSA are concerned.
Fast forward to April 2013 and I got a call from a blocked number on my mobile. I answered it and was immediately asked for my National Insurance number. No “Hi, how are you today” or even any kind of identification as to who I was speaking to, just “Can I take your National Insurance number?”. After the caller refused to identify themselves I told them the conversation was over and hung up. About a week later I received quite a threatening letter from the Child Support Agency telling me that I would be paying up or else they would force me to pay (they used all kinds of phrases including “our extensive legal powers” to make the letter more intimidating).
I decided to call them and find out what was going on. Turns out the ex had changed her mind and was now pursuing child maintenance. I was also told that I had already accrued arrears to the tune of £1500 for a claim that was supposedly only a week long. When I questioned this I was told the claim was started when I had made the initial call. The real kicker was they wanted all this money in one go. I told them I couldn’t pay that kind of money all at once and was told “that’s ok, we’ll just take it from your wages”. My monthly wage at the time was £1400, so even then I couldn’t afford it. They decided to take £700 for May and £800 for June. I got behind on my rent and household bills, I couldn’t afford petrol, I struggled to afford food. A few days after I made my first payment my ex posted a photo of two leather sofas on Facebook with the caption thanking me for them. Child support indeed.
My tale of woe doesn’t end there. I left my previous job in October 2013, I called the CSA to inform them of this. Because I didn’t trust them not to touch my bank account I also cancelled the direct debit I had with them. Within a week of doing so I had more threatening letters and phone calls ordering me to pay maintenance despite me telling them that I didn’t have a job. These letters and phone calls became a weekly thing, each time the calls would get more menacing and the letters would include more threats.
I started a new job in March 2014 and immediately informed the CSA as I didn’t want to run up any of their arrears. They told me I would be paying £191 a month, but the first payment would be £400 and the second would be £250. I asked for an explanation as to these charges and they refused. I told them I would pay the scheduled £191 a month and not a penny more. I set up a direct debit with them and they took the £400 and £250 anyway. I called my bank to be told there was nothing they could do.
I cancelled the direct debit and told the CSA that I would pay every month by card so they couldn’t take any more than they were supposed to. They told me that this would only be possible as a temporary measure and they would either need to set up a direct debit or a direct payment into my ex’s bank, which would mean avoiding the CSA altogether. I told them I wanted to take the direct pay option. They told me that they would call my ex and get it set up. A month passed and nothing had come of it. I called them and was told that they hadn’t contacted my ex so I would have to pay by card. I refused and told them to do their job and get the direct pay set up like they were supposed to. The lady I spoke to said she’d call my ex immediately and get it set up.
A few weeks later my accountant at work told me he had received a letter from the CSA telling him I had agreed to have child maintenance taken directly from my wage, which was a complete lie. Again the first payment was £400, then £250 followed by my regular payments. A week later I got a letter from the CSA telling me to call them and make a card payment. Now it had already been set up to take it from my wage. If it wasn’t for my accountant I wouldn’t have known that the CSA were actively trying to screw me out of £1300. I now have the money coming direct from my wage and after two years I’m finally paying what I was supposed to be paying in the first place.
After so many dealings with this vile organisation I think I’m pretty qualified to give out some advice on dealing with them, so here it is:
Never assume they’re telling the truth. They’re not. They will say anything they think will get more and more money from you.
Get it set up ASAP! I cannot stress this enough. If it’s not set up straight away then they will make up any amount of arrears they want and force you to pay it, tacking on their mystery charges at the same time.
Don’t expect any kind of compassion from them. Can’t afford it? Tough shit, you pay regardless. The CSA has absolutely no qualms about putting you into debt.
Record conversations with them if you can. They record all your calls and will use little snippets of it out of context to make it look like you’re refusing to pay.
Come to an agreement with your ex. This is probably the best thing you can do because it means you don’t have to deal with these ruthless fear mongers at all. If you’re struggling to come to an agreement with your ex try offering things to sweeten the deal (offer to have flexible payments so if they’re struggling you can pay slightly early that month, offer to give more around birthdays and Christmas)
I hope this advice is of use to you, hopefully this along with my story will arm you with the knowledge of the CSA’s underhand tactics. You can’t fight them, they will take the money one way or another, but you can always prepare yourself for it.
Richard Castle’s Story – Missing Jennifer
I have a daughter, Jennifer, whom I have not seen for 12 years now.
Jennifer turned 18 on the 4th of July this year, 2012. Like I have done for every one of those 12 missing years, I sent her a card and a present. On at least one previous occasion the present and card have been ‘refused at the door’. This is not the only issue I’ve had in trying to maintain a loving relationship with my daughter, in a case where her mother has decided I’m ‘surplus to requirements’ in my daughters life.
I split from her mother in May 1998, and for the first year there were no real issues regarding contact. But then I had to obtain a court order to see her. This meant asking a Judge permission to see the little girl I’d just spent the past 4 years being a father too; being the one knee deep in nappies, being woken all hours of the night to feed and comfort her and bath her. We had amazing playtimes and went out to see lots of places and had fun. Our relationship was a loving, fun father-daughter relationship and then suddenly I found myself having to ask some old overpaid lawyer permission to be her dad. How wrong is that!!!!
Shortly after I got the Contact Order, I was informed my daughter was going to be taken by her mother to Nairn in Scotland to live with her mother’s new boyfriend.
Of course I objected, but I was told that her mother would get a Court Order to remove her to Scotland. I did not have the money to fight the case and all case law is against the dad (the mothers well-being is considered paramount in leave to remove cases) plus I was ‘advised’ by lawyers, Families Need Fathers and even someone from the Citizens Advice Bureau that any attempts to block such a move were at best futile.
Jennifer’s last known address was in the small Scottish town of Forres, near Elgin, Morayshire. Over the past 12 years Jennifer’s mother has gone from being enthusiastic about my relationship with Jennifer to being obstructive, downright awkward and un co-operative.
I have tried everything from negotiation, mediation to the threats of court action.
In 2008 I was diagnosed with Leukaemia. One mimute I was at the doctors asking him about a bruise on my leg, the next I was being rushed to hospital, my chances of survival were slim. Through Fathers 4 Justice a letter was sent to Jennifer’s mother and I requested a picture of Jennifer to put by my hospital bed in the Royal Marsden whilst I was fighting for my life. The request was declined.
After my daughter was taken to Scotland, she went from loving me to showing an unnatural hatred towards me in the space of just over a year. Any requests to her mother for co-operation were simply met by the statement that “she doesn’t want to see you”.
Then her mother started ignored my attempts at communicating with them. I don’t know if Jennifer gets any of the cards and presents I’ve sent over the last 12 years, but I have proof of them being received at the address and being signed for by her mother and step-dad.
When Jennifer comes and finds me, and I have to believe that she will, then I am going to show her all the documents I have kept, the proof of all the items I posted her and I will tell her “that’s what I did to stay in touch with you”.
I will also be able to show her all the things I have done over the years as part of the Fathers 4 Justice campaign to try and change the law so that both parents have a presumed right in law to see their children following divorce or separation. I hope one day to show Jennifer all the photos, videos of my TV appearances, articles in the press and Blogs on the web. I hope I do not have to wait for too long for this to happen. If not for me but for her Grandmother who fears that she will not live long enough to see her grand-daughter again.
To date I have paid in excess of £70,000 in child support to my daughters mother and not seen my daughter. I was removed from her life and replaced with a cash point.
Every year on Fathers Day I watch the post box in wait for a Fathers Day card that of course never materialises. Fathers Day is spent either at work, on a Fathers 4 Justice March or locked in my room crying over her. It’s heartbreaking, knowing that your child is out there somewhere and you can’t see them is like a living bereavement and I thank my lucky stars that I have the most amazing support from my family, and in particular from my loving partner Lynda to help me through these hard times.
All I want to do is to be a Dad to my daughter Jennifer. To laugh and enjoy life as father and daughter. After all, does she not deserve that?
We have lost out on 12 years simply because her mother wanted “to move on” and considered me an inconvenience to that. Because her mother did not have the ability to put Jennifer’s best interests over her own needs.
We will never get back those 12 years, 12 years of heartbreak and hurt. I just hope and pray that we will be reunited soon and Jennifer will realise for herself that I’m not the big bad wolf that she has been lead to believe I am. I’m just a loving Dad who has tried his hardest to be there for her. I long for that day to come. When it will come is anyone’s guess.