So when I started writing this, the thread was open. It turned pretty quickly...
This was my reply to the thread:
I think paying child support out of government funds and making recovery the responsibility of government is brilliant. Sadly, it would never pass parliament.
The only proviso that I can think of is that, in this sort of situation, the custodial parent doesn't necessarily have the right to use the money to better their lifestyle. Perhaps the answer would be to set a reasonable amount that is necessary to provide a reasonable standard-of-living and make that available to be used at the discretion of the custodial parent, and then quarantine payments made by high-earning non-custodial parents that are over and above this amount. The use of the extra could be used for purposes agreed mutually, or agreed by a court in the event of two parents who refuse to negotiate in good faith.
The child would be afforded the lifestyle he or she deserves, and the paying parent would no longer be able to fall back on the "why should I have to fund my ex's lifestyle" excuse.
But above all, the child is entitled to a similar lifestyle after separation that they would have otherwise enjoyed.
Again, the child has the right to enjoy the same lifestyle he or she otherwise would have. If the parents had stayed together and had more children, the child's lifestyle would have also dropped. To insist that the "first children" keep their lifestyle regardless means that we are basically saying one of two things: Either that the needs of the children from the second family are less important than those of the first, or we are saying that our legislators have the right to say to parents that if you can't afford more children then you shouldn't have them, and if you have them regardless then that's your own tough luck - get a job and support them.
Now, I am pretty confident that you (or any other right thinking person, for that matter) would hold the former to be true.
The attitude that would allow the latter is even more worrying. It is the same attitude that allows people to think that a single parent that has another child isn't worthy of extra support, because "if they can't afford more children then they shouldn't have them, and if they have them regardless then tough luck".
To allow governments to legislate according to that throughout process would be horrible for children. And while I DEFINITELY understand the hate and the vitriol for people who would willingly leave their own children unsupported, I really do think that this is an idea that would only lead to a bad place - especially for the groups that need the help most.
To have a viable system, there has to be no minimum and no maximum - just as it would be if the parents were together. Otherwise the system runs the risk of no longer being about parity and becoming more punitive. That would only perpetuate the problems.
I think that the two groups that are most easily able to avoid child support are those that are self employed (hiya!) and those that operate within the cash economy. To be honest, I doubt that the issue with the second group can really be fixed - the cash economy has always existed, and WILL always exist. You can increase penalties for people paying (and being paid) cash-in-hand, but this will always only scratch the surface.
The second group can be fixed, though. I believe that if the paying parent is a self-employed sole trader, for the purposes of child support "income" should be a fixed percentage of business turnover, regardless of the actual profit. The problem with self-employed people is that there are many legal and semi-legal ways to assign personal expenses to the business, thereby reducing the business' profit and the individual's taxable income. Calculating child support as a percentage of turnover instead of profit means that these deductions become irrelevant, and there is far more chance of the child receiving a lifestyle comparable to that which the parent could actually provide.
(Note to any awesome ATO people reading: Personally, I use NONE of the semi-legal expenses stuff, so please leave me alone. You are all brilliant protectors of the public purse and I love you all very much. Thank you and Jah bless.)
I know this goes against conventional wisdom, but I think that the way to fix the system IS to link the issues of child support and visitation. I certainly don't think that either should be dependent on the other, but I think that because they arise from the same incident (that both start with separated parents) in the minds of many they are two sides of the same coin.
I think that a big part of the solution is to remove the social acceptance of parents who don't do the right thing - custodial parents who don't encourage (or worse, actively discourage) a relationship with the non-custodial parent without a valid, court-determined reason AND non-custodial parents who don't support their children to the best of their capability. I don't think that either group is a widely reviled in our community as they should be.
The way that I believe would work would be to set a range of penalties, and then determine equivalent transgressions on either side that might attract them. For example, if a non-custodial parent being delinquent in paying child support for two months is worth a $200 fine, make obstructing visitation on two occasions worth a $200 fine. If a seriously delinquent non-payer is worthy of a certain prison term, then make moving interstate without notice or permission worthy of that same prison term.
(For the record, I'm using these as examples. I don't think that anyone should be going to prison over either issue. A payer in prison has zero chance of paying, and a custodial parent in prison isn't exactly what you'd call a great outcome either, for obvious reasons.)
The point it, have one set of penalties, and then decide what transgressions are equivalent and impose the penalties on both groups as they arise.
It will not only have a measure of fairness, but - MORE importantly - it will also have the appearance of fairness. The supporters of either group would find fewer ways to convince the public at large that their manipulation of the system is reasonable "because the system is unfair".
More than anything, I think that more of the people that are subject to the system would be willing to comply if they believe that there is some parity involved. It will never be the case that everyone will happily (or even begrudgingly) comply, but I think that this could be a step in the right direction.
It would also be electorally palatable. And let's face it - with our politicians, nothing will happen if there's a chance that they will lose votes over it.