Maintenance payments system both inadequate and ineffective, says judge

Estonian child maintenance payments (picture is illustrative).
Estonian child maintenance payments (picture is illustrative). Source: Postimees/SCANPIX

According to Tartu circuit court head judge Kersti Kerstna-Vaksi, the current level of maintenance payments in Estonia is neither sufficient for an average family, nor does it take into account the number of children in a family.

''Whilst the minimum wage rise can only be a good thing, this doesn't mean that everyone's incomes will rise in line with that,'' Kerstna-Vaks told daily Eesti Päevaleht.

''There are situations in families with three to five children, where disputes can arise when an estranged partner is having to pay maintenance for those children and it ends up costing around double the national minimum wage, or around €1,000,'' she went on.

Such disagreements can be exacerbated when the recipient of maintenance then goes on to have more children with a new partner and gets accused of spending some of the maintenance money on the newer arrivals as well as those for whom it was intended.

Legal costs in getting out of making maintenance payments can sometimes outstrip those payments

"One of the biggest problems in judges' workloads today is that people are concealing their income,'' Ms. Kerstna-Vaks went on.

''In many cases it does indeed appear that the debtor [ie. maintenance payer] cannot afford to pay, based on their official income, but this evidence-gathering is time and resource-intensive for the state too,'' she added.

However, the judge went on, the Supreme Court in Estonia has stated in some of its rulings that the legal costs to the defendants in such cases are sometimes so high that the equivalent amount would constitute maintenance payments over a long period of time.

"A person who claims that he is unable to pay maintenance at the minimum wage level then spends relatively large amounts in legal fees," added Kerstna-Vaks, pointing out the paradox.

Editor: Andrew Whyte

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