Government could soon introduce an electronic payment system for child maintenance.
This was disclosed by Attorney General Dale Marshall, who said Government was in the process of preparing a Child Justice Act, as it seeks to bring several pieces of legislation up to date.
“It should be in Parliament very soon,” he said.
Marshall said the time was ripe for lawmakers to look at how the country deals with a whole set of other family arrangements and bring them into a more accommodating 21st century.
The Attorney General was leading the debate on the Family Law Bill 2019 in the Lower Chamber when he argued that the Magistrates’ Court was still dealing with family issues “in a way that is not appropriate for a modern Barbados”. He said that this court only hears maintenance matters and the payment process was currently “awkward”.
“It has to change, and we have given our commitment to change it. While we perhaps don’t want to get into that side of the debate, we have committed that as we build out our family court we will fully accommodate the magisterial jurisdiction,” promised Marshall.
“A mother has to go to the court and try to collect maintenance for a child. She has no way of knowing if the man paid the money or not, so she will routinely take time off from whatever she is doing and go to the court and be often told ‘no money ain’t here’. But she has wasted a whole morning, taking time from a job she is probably earning minimum wage and can ill afford to take time off,” he argued.
“Why does it elude us to think that a single parent living in Horse Hill, in the Garden Land or someplace else, should not be able to check her phone in the comfort of her home or when she gets a break from work and see yes, there is money there. This is such a common sense thing that you wonder why we haven’t been doing it all along,” added Marshall.
He said the Ministry of Finance has already started discussions with commercial banks to see how best to proceed with an online payment system that would be of little to no cost to the parents.
He said by allowing the paying party to deposit the funds and the collecting parent to be able to have a bank account they could check online would make the child maintenance arrangement easier.
“If you are able to identify there is no money there you can sooner take steps to deal with the content issue than if you have to go at a court and stand up for three hours to wait for a court clerk to talk to you to see if there is money there,” he said.
“That is the kind of initiative that the Ministry of Finance is currently examining to see how we can better facilitate the payment of maintenance to mothers. In Trinidad the payments are digitized. The man pays in the money and the system pays out the money to you automatically, and we want to bring that kind of initiative,” said Marshall.
“The Ministry of Finance has been having that discussion now with our commercial banks because obviously banks don’t do anything for free, and you have to come to a method of dealing with it so as to minimize the cost because we are intent that the parent who has to collect the money should not have to suffer from paying any fees if it can be avoided. So we are going to change that system.”