The Clearinghouse on International Developments in Child, Youth and Family Policies

at COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY

1.103 Child Support: France

Demography

Lone-parent families account for around one in eight families with children in France. France has a low marriage rate and a low divorce rate. Almost a third of births are to unmarried women, but the rate of teenage birth is very low at only nine per thousand.

Provision for Lone Parents

There are two main benefits for lone parents, Allocation Soutien Familial (ASF), a noncontributory benefit for families where there is no second parent; and Allocation de Parent Isole (API) a means-tested and more generous alternative to Revenue Minimum D'Insertion (RMI), the general social assistance benefit, it is payable for 12 months after divorce or separation or until the youngest child is three years old. When API eligibility ceases the lone parent may claim RMI, which involves making a contrat d'insertion (which may include participation in a job creation or training programme). Most lone parents are in employment, but they have been disproportionately affected by recent rises in unemployment.

When a child is born in France the father does not have to be named, and where this is the case there is no obligation to maintain, and entitlement to ASF follows. Where there is a recognised father, he has an obligation to maintain which if not met gives rise to ASF.

Calculation for Child Support

In the case of divorcing parents the judge will set the amount of child support along with the right to visit. Child support agreements are required by the judge when the divorce is by mutual consent and joint petition (over 40 per cent of divorces). Cohabiting couples can also use the courts to decide on the amount of child support where they are unable to agree arrangements on separation.

In both cases the judge estimates the amount of child support freely, taking into account the needs of the children and the income of the non-resident parent, but there are no formal guidelines and the amounts awarded are generally low. They range from around 40 per child per month to 800 per child per month; 80 per child per month is an average level. Child support is only awarded in about two out of three cases.

Child support is not paid in about one in ten cases and irregularly paid in about 40 per cent of cases. The resident parent can ask the family benefits office to recover the child support debt on his or her behalf after two months of non-payment. Payments can be deducted from the salary or bank account of the non-resident parent, or collected by a tax collector or bailiff.

Minimum Amount

There is provision to recover a minimum amount of maintenance (around 60 per month as at 1 January 1995) but it is rarely used.

Guaranteed Payments

If the resident parent is not married or cohabiting they can receive family support benefit (Allocation de Soutien Familial (ASF) of 47 per month per child in 1998) as an advance on unpaid child support. In 60% to 70% of cases the Caisse Allocations Familiales (CAF) consider that the amount is not acutally recoverable, but CAF will continue to pay ASF to lone parents provided that they are on their own, ie, do not remarry or cohabit. In all cases of doubt the benefit is not payable. By June 1997 there were 484,600 recipients, almost all of them women.

*Source: Helen Barnes, Patricia Day and Natalie Cronin (1998). Trial and Error: A review of UK child support policy. , Occasional Paper 24. London: Family Policy Studies Centre.
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