There are over half a million single parent families in the Czech Republic, due both to a high divorce rate and many children being born out of wedlock. Almost half of these families live on the poverty threshold or under it, literally living from hand to mouth from one pay check to the next. What adds to the problem is the fact that a high number of people simply refuse to pay alimony, leaving the single parent to struggle on their own for years.
Now an NGO has come to their rescue. The Association in Aid of Single Parents was established in 2011, providing various forms of assistance. Now it has offered to deal with single parents’ alimony problems free of charge. The association’s vice chairman Filip Sykora explains just how widespread the problem is.
“This problem affects approximately 200,000 kids around the Czech Republic. The total debt is 13 billion Czech crowns, which is the equivalent of 500 million euros, so the problem is really huge.”
I understand that a vast number of these single parents –usually single mothers – do not take the case to court. Why is that?
"That is true. There are a lot of reasons. For example they are afraid of the initial expenses which they cannot afford, they still have feelings for their ex-partner, that is quite common you know, they do not want to cause their exs trouble or they fear their ex’s potential revenge on their children.”
Half of the single parents whose partners refuse to pay alimony for one reason or another simply tolerate it. Although failure to pay alimony is the second most frequent transgression handled by Czech courts only around 12 thousand cases get to court a year. Filip Sykora says that parents often fear the financial burden this might involve and the administrative proceedings linked to a court case.
“The possibility to take a debtor’s driver’s license away really helped -in the past two years the debt dropped from 16 billion to 13 billion.”
“One third of the 200,000 families this concerns live under the poverty line. So the problem is financial. The average amount of debt is 80,000 Czech crowns per head –the equivalent of 3,000 euros, so the problem is really financial. Sometimes they do not even have a place to live so we also help find them a place to live – some apartment with lower rent or something they can afford.”
Although there are many NGO’s ready to advise single parents on their legal rights and help them tackle their problem the service now provided by the Association in Aid of Single Parents is revolutionary in that single parents do not have to shoulder any of the expenses. The legal costs are either covered by the parent who refuses to pay or by the association itself. Filip Sykora says this should give thousands of single parents the courage to finally address their problem.
“The most important thing for parents now is that they do not have to pay anything to the lawyers and bailiff’s office. It is completely free of charge even if the alimony law enforcement case proves unsuccessful. This is the key, ground-breaking difference compared to the past because earlier parents always had to reckon with initial expenses of around 10-15 thousand Czech crowns which always impacted the single parent family budget very badly.”
Although inability to enforce alimony payments is a widespread problem in the country, this and past governments have so far failed to find a satisfactory solution. Two years ago parliament enforced a law according to which people who refuse to pay alimony can be punished by having their drivers license taken away on a court order. Although the decision was considered highly controversial at the time Filip Sykora says it has produced results.
“Actually the possibility to take a debtor’s license away really helped. In the past two years the debt dropped from 16 billion to 13 billion, so this measure really helped. Now there is a government proposal for the state to pay the alimony and enforce payment from the debtor later. But at present that is only a proposal.”
So would you be in favour of this being adopted?
“Actually it is hard to say, because this is not a solution to the problem. It is not pro-active, it is reactive. It can solve the financial problem for single parents, but not the problem as such. Because if the alimony is paid by the state this does not mean that debtors will pay up afterwards.”
The average monthly alimony payment per child is 2,000 to 3,000 crowns. The reason why so many parents refuse to pay on a regular basis is unclear. Most of those who fail to do so claim they can’t afford it because they are out of work or have commitments to their new family. Filip Sykora from the Association in Aid of Single Parents says he thinks it is because it is so easy to get away with it.
“Over 100 parents contact us every single day.”
“The legislation we have is not good at protecting single parents and their children. I think the main problem is in the legislation. 90 percent of debtors are men and 10 percent are women. And, as I see it, debtors think alimony is not worth paying, because the legal punishment is not as high as it should be. Even if they go to jail – the debtors – they do not have to pay the debt after they come out. So that is the problem.”
Although tougher punishment for non-payers is not being considered at the present time, the service provided by the Association in Aid of Single Parents should make a huge difference for those concerned. I asked Filip Sykora about the feedback to it that they had received from the government and from single parents.
“We started three weeks ago, so we have no feedback from the government yet, but the majority of parents have welcomed the service. Over 100 parents contact us every single day. So we have started helping over 1,000 families. The important thing is that it is really easy for them. The only thing they have to do is to visit our website www.vasevyzivne.cz and leave us their contact information and we take care of the rest –so literally it is help at the click of a mouse. “
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