NGO on new child support-related measures: These will not solve single parents' problems
New measures used to pressure parents owing child support took effect on Tuesday, including revocation of driver's licenses, and the Estonian Ministry of Justice is currently divising further measures, including barring travel abroad. Kaarel Veike, board member at NGO Helping Single Parents has a number of concerns regarding these new procedures.
There are currently over 8,500 children in Estonia owed child support by one of their parents, and the total amount owed will soon reach over 16 million euros.
In order to pressure parents who owe, new measures that went into effect yesterday will allow for certain rights to be suspended in cases of nonpayment, including driver's, hunting and boating licenses. Bailiffs will also be able to garnish wages as well as seize rent, loan, and lease payments in situations where the debtors have expenditures exceeding the monthly maximum allowable amount. In addition, the state can refuse to grant the debtor government assistance, including grants for starting up businesses as well as for owners of private forests.
"If a debtor is able to to justify why he has not been paying child support, then his rights will not be restricted," explained Jekaterina Agu, advisor to the Private Law Division at the Estonian Ministry of Justice. "If he is able to justify why limiting his rights would be unjust, the courts will reserve the right to not employ these measures. According to Agu, this also includes situations where the debtor is disabled or has been laid off and would like to continue paying child support, but for a period of time cannot.
Regardless, debtors' rights would not be restricted immediately. Rather, these measures would be applied, if at all, only after a more thorough process was completed first: the debtor is first given a warning, in which he is given 30 days to either provide an explanation for his nonpayment or else begin paying. If the debtor pays either one month's child support or sets up a payment plan, then his aforementioned rights will remain unimpeded. The entire process, from appointment to suspension of the debtor's rights, takes a few months.
"This is apparently a last-resort measure, and even if it is used, it can be kept at bay simply by making even a minimal payment," stated Kaarel Veike, board member at NGO Helping Single Parents (MTÜ Üksikvanemate Heaks). "This is not a complete solution; this will not solve a single parent's problems."
The Ministry of Justice nevertheless plans to expand these measures even further, including imposing bans on international travel. "This is one of the changes currently on the table," explained Agu. "One idea was to put limits on passport validity in place; another was to restrict child support debtors from traveling out of Estonia via air, sea, or rail."
Beginning in 2017, if a parent does not fulfill their legal obligation within four months of the child support judgment entering into effect, the state will pay out 100€ a month to the child, upon which they will demand repayment from the debtor parent. Kaarel Veike, on his part, said that the child suport fund should offer single parents help faster than is currently planned.