HOUSEHOLD finances could soon get simpler for many single parents if employers start withholding court-ordered regular payments directly from divorced employees' salaries, as proposed by the Home Affairs Branch. The Government hopes next month to finalise six amendments to four ordinances offering protection for single parents and their children. The direct-debit proposal appears to have cleared most hurdles, gaining the endorsement of labour and business leaders at a hearing last week. 'It's been a long-running campaign, and I'm delighted that it looks as though it's going to go through with approval because it can only be a good thing,' Family Law Association chairman Sharon Ser said. Each year courts hear about 300 cases of non-payment of alimony and child support. As of June, the Social Welfare Department was handling 235 clients forced on to welfare because former spouses refused to pay up. Ms Ser said initiating proceedings against a delinquent former spouse would cost $6,000 to $10,000, only some of which might eventually be recoverable. 'You could cut out so much unnecessary litigation, post-settlement hearings, if the maintenance was assured by being paid by employers,' she said. Unlike in Britain and Australia, there is no provision in Hong Kong for 'clean-break' settlements, where a family's assets are divided between the husband and wife at the time of the divorce, eliminating the need for all but child-support payments. That means periodic payments have special importance. Most cases involve a former husband making payments to his former wife based on her needs and his resources at the time of the divorce. However, assessing these is an imperfect process. 'The court will make an order based on the facts that they have at the time. But the man's situation may change or he may not have disclosed responsibilities he has in a second marriage or in a second relationship,' Family Welfare Society director Thomas Mulvey said. The difficulties of maintaining separate households were enough to drive women on to welfare and men to suicide, he said. However, Mr Mulvey and Ms Ser both noted that irregular payments did not always reflect a shortage of cash. It was not uncommon, for example, for arrears to be eliminated a couple of days before a court hearing. 'It's an expression of control and power,' Ms Ser said. 'In order to avoid those sort of control games, direct payment from the employer would be ideal.' The only reservations expressed at last week's hearing on the direct-debit proposal came from employer representatives who wanted payment-deduction orders judicially issued so companies would clearly be acting as disinterested parties to a court order.