Ag. Public Health Communications Specialist
Ministry of Health and Social Development
Telephone: 468-3701 ext. 852 7742
The Child Maintenance and Access Bill, 2016 that is expected to ensure that both parents have access to their children through appropriate arrangements, is to receive its second reading in the House of Assembly.
The bill was proposed by the Ministry of Health and Social Development to address the concerns and challenges presented in the Magistrate’s Code of Procedure (MCP), namely chapter 44 as it relates to the maintenance of children.
Deputy Secretary in the Ministry of Health and Social Development, Ms. Tasha Bertie said that the implementation of the proposed legislation will strengthen the system of laws and policies that recognise children’s right to special protection and care in the British Virgin Islands.
Ms. Bertie said the bill seeks to introduce other intervention methods for addressing a parent or guardian’s failure to comply with the stipulations for maintenance. The alternatives of mediation or measures such as suspension of a licence, garnishing of wages or an attachment order are also proposed as a first line of intervention prior to a term of imprisonment.
Ms. Bertie added that in addition to maintenance, the proposed legislation would address the issue of access and would provide for the court to deal with this issue when an application for a maintenance order is being heard.
The bill also provides for each parent and a person who has assumed responsibility for a child to be entitled to have access to that child. In addition, a provision is made for consideration to be given to what is in the best interest of the child, when making an order for access.
Under the current legislation, child maintenance is a regular, reliable financial support that helps towards a child's everyday living costs. The MCP provides the laws of the Virgin Islands that govern the jurisdiction of magistrates to hear and determine affiliation matters. Challenges exist under section 115 and 118 which provides the principal methods of enforcement.
The Deputy Secretary stated that the law warrants a defaulter of payment to imprisonment, which understandably can contribute to the overcrowding at Her Majesty’s Prison and the term of imprisonment does not extinguish arrears, which while in custody only accumulates.
Ms. Bertie further stated that gender neutrality with children born out of wedlock continues to be a concern, as a non-custodial father is duty bound to pay maintenance to the custodial mother but the mother is not bound to pay the father as it is presently.
She noted that an order is not enforceable after the 18th birthday of a child, and no account is taken of a child with special needs who may require support for the remainder of his or her life. These she said are addressed in the new legislation.
The proposed legislation, however, makes no distinction between a child or children born in marriage and those born out of wedlock. It further makes provision where each parent of the child has an obligation to provide for the child or children.
The Child Maintenance and Access Bill, 2016 will be paired with the Child Maintenance Orders Bill, 2016 which is expected to provide the legal framework for mutuality among the United States Virgin Islands and other jurisdictions.
The legislation received their first reading in December, 2016. The public is invited to review the proposed bills in detail by visiting www.bvi.gov.vg or calling the Ministry of Health and Social Development at 468-2174.
The Ministry of Health and Social Development aspires to provide a caring and integrated system of health and social services that facilitates human development and improves the quality of life in the Virgin Islands.
Notes: Links to legislations and supporting documents can be obtained on the scrolling banner of the Government’s Website at www.bvi.gov.vg