In practice, however, it is often the children who suffer most. In many cases, this is because of the wrangling over money that ensues between parties, when one – commonly the father – is obliged to pay towards the maintenance of

children, and resents or resists the level of payment expected.

The bitterness that follows refusal to pay, or inadequate or irregular payments, can scar families for life, putting a strain not only on the separated couple but, more disturbingly, on the bond between parents and children.

The problems experienced in its early years by the Child Support Agency (CSA) in eliciting main-tenance from partners only compounded this profoundly anxious and painful experience.

Until 2008, couples where the main carer was on benefit were obliged to arrange maintenance through the CSA, but in October of that year the law changed to make the rules more flexible and, it was hoped, to help foster more harmonious dealings between mothers and fathers. It also allowed any parent on benefits who is receiving child maintenance to keep more of their benefits.

According to a new poll, however, very few separated parents are aware of these changes, and don’t even know where to go for advice on how to get maintenance. This survey was conducted by Child Maintenance Options, a government-funded service which, as its title suggests, offers impartial advice on the various paths parents can take to negotiate maintenance, including the option of arranging maintenance privately, rather than through the CSA.

This anonymous service is extended not just to parents but to guardians, relatives, friends and child support professionals, thus offering extensive, collaborative support for all those in close contact with the children involved.

Given the worryingly low levels of awareness about where to find advice on child support, this agency clearly needs to heighten its profile because what it offers could provide a lifeline for separated couples, securing money for children of which they are otherwise being deprived, and easing the strain between former partners.

As The Herald’s case study shows, the benefits of this can be marked for all parties, both financially and emotionally.

This poll is particularly timely, coming as it does in the same week that unacceptably high levels of child neglect in the UK have been high­lighted, and reinforcing the need to publicise more widely improvements to the child maintenance system and the ways in which people can access it.

Nobody would ever claim that separation is the cause of child neglect, but the desperation felt by parents without sufficient means to look after their children must in some cases become a contributory factor in their inadequate care.

The welfare of children must be a first priority for any civilised society, and such excellent initiatives as Child Maintenance Options must make themselves as prominent as possible if they are to carry out the life-changing work they have been set up to provide.