Why this story matters:
In response to poor trends in child support payments from fathers in divorced families, the Estonian government implemented a huge reform a few years ago. Among other things, they connected the alimony to the minimum salary. This means that the parent not living with his or her children must make a payment equivalent to half of a minimum salary.
When the new law was implemented, the minimum salary was low in Estonia, and based on a study the cost of life for a child was comparable. No one expected the minimum salary to increase so rapidly as of 2012.
This year, fathers are expected to pay 250 euros per child. A man with three children has to pay 750 euros, an amount many say they cannot afford. Some fathers have even left their jobs (at least officially) to avoid paying.
Recently, judges have written a public letter to the Ministry of Justice asking for the law to be more flexible and considerate of the parents' actual situations.
One father wrote a letter to the Estonian daily Päevaleht in which he claimed that his children didn't receive all of the financial support he paid because his former partner used it for beauty salons, clothes and accessories. This sparked a wave of letters from fathers with similar concerns.
Having a strict alimony system where the government makes an extra effort to force fathers (or mothers, of course) who don't live with their children, to pay up, is new to Estonia where for decades many parents didn't even expect to receive anything from their exes. This used to be quite a common thinking - if I have to beg for help every month for support, I'd much rather not have it at all. So women often gave up on alimony altogether. It definitely wasn't common to turn to court to force your children's father to pay, like it is now.
So the reform was a very sudden change. Parents who, for years, could get away with not paying had to suddenly scrape up all their savings. And that could understandably create an angry wave of reactions.
On the other hand, making everyone pay the same amount is a very strict rule. It's a big difference whether you live and work in the capital or in a small town in Estonia. And if people are hiding their real incomes because they can't afford to pay alimony, then there is a fault in the system that needs to be fixed.
Details from the story:
- Many fathers have turned to the Ministry of Justice with a similar concern -- they think their alimonies are wasted on irrelevant things.
- Alimony per parent per child in Estonia is 250 euros, the biggest it has ever been. If the parent is not able to pay up, the government does instead.
- Other penalties apply for dads who are not willing to pay. For example, their driving licenses can be taken away.
- The Justice Ministry is discussing the possibility of changing the law to be more flexible and considerate of the actual capabilities of parents. For example, they are thinking of using the German model where the alimony is calculated based on different criteria.
- The number of people turning to the court about alimony issues has doubled since 2012.