Separating parents can arrange for ongoing financial support for their children between themselves or apply for assessment through Australia’s child support scheme. Child support comprises regular or periodic contributions by one parent of a child to the other parent or carer, to meet the child’s ongoing welfare and maintenance.
The child support scheme is regulated through various laws and administered by the Department of Human Services (Child Support) (‘DHS Child Support’). Child support legislation requires that both parents should share the financial responsibility of raising and caring for their children.
Applying for an administrative assessment
The amount of child support to be paid by one parent to the other can be determined by administrative assessment through DHS Child Support. The application is made by the primary carer of a child or children. The amount of child support can vary from time to time due to changes in the financial or personal circumstances of the parents or child.
Eligibility for Child Support
Child support is payable for all children until they turn 18 years of age. This includes adopted children, children born from artificial conception or surrogacy and children from same sex relationships. If a child turns 18 during the year he or she is completing secondary school then an application can be made for child support to continue until the child completes schooling.
DHS Child Support must be satisfied that both parents are the legal parents of the child before assessing an application. This can be shown by providing a copy of the birth certificate, adoption papers, Court order or statutory declaration by the person claiming to be a parent.
In some cases, parentage may be challenged through a Court and/or DNA testing. These matters can be complex and emotive and we recommend the guidance of an experienced family Lawyer to provide legal advice.
In some instances, child maintenance is payable for children over 18 years who are in full-time study, or who have a physical or mental disability. Applications for child maintenance are made under the Family Law Act 1975. If the Court considers such payments are either necessary to complete the child’s education or justified due to the child suffering from a mental or physical disability the appropriate orders will be made. Court ordered child support payments may also be collected by DHS Child Support.
The financial and special needs of the child will be taken into consideration together with a range of incidental factors in determining whether maintenance is payable.
How are child care payments calculated?
DHS Child Support uses a complex formula to calculate child support payments. The assessment matrix is flexible enough to consider a range of factors such as:
- The length of time the child spends with each parent/carer;
- The costs of raising children relative to specific age ranges and the capacity for the parents to meet those costs;
- The respective income of each parent;
- Each parent’s responsibility for supporting other children;
- The age of the child and other children in the care of each parent;
- The basic living needs of each parent.
Child support payments are linked to Family Tax Benefit – accordingly the amount of child support received will influence the amount of Family Tax Benefit paid.
Reviewing an administrative assessment
Either parent may object to an administrative assessment which may sometimes not fully consider any special or unusual needs of a child or the circumstances of a parent or carer. Alternatively, a parent or carer’s circumstances may change or there may be a change in care arrangements, which justify a review. This may be due to loss of a job or health related matters. In these cases, a parent or carer may lodge an application to change assessment – special circumstances form.
The parties will be notified in writing of the decision reached by DHS Child Support. If either party is still unhappy with the decision, an objection may be lodged within 28 days. After the objection is considered, there may be further grounds for appeal through a specialist division of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal.
Alternatively, if Court proceedings have already commenced for property, parenting or spousal maintenance, a party may apply to the Court for a departure order which effectively bypasses the assessment made through DHS Child Support.
Private arrangements for child support
Rather than applying for assessment, parents may negotiate their own arrangements for child support. A child support agreement is a written document setting out the obligation for one parent to pay the other child support and detailing the type, amount and frequency of payments. This may constitute ongoing or lump sum payments or periodic payments for specific items such as school fees or health insurance.
Child support agreements are either ‘binding’ or ‘limited’. Independent legal advice must be obtained when entering into a binding agreement.
If you and your ex-partner agree on arrangements for child support, our experienced family Lawyers can explain the options and assist in finalising your agreement.
Enforcing child support payments
Parties can agree privately regarding payment arrangements or request DHS Child Support to collect and distribute payments. DHS Child Support can assist where an administrative assessment has been made or a private agreement is in place.
DHS Child Support has the power to enforce child support payments – this is beneficial in circumstances where parents are hesitant to pay or there is a history of violence. Enforcement can be through direct debit of the payer’s bank account, retention of money due from a tax return or initiating debt recovery proceedings in Court.
Our experienced Lawyers can assist you with lodging, reviewing or challenging child support payments or negotiating and finalising a private agreement with your ex-partner.
We understand that child support issues can be contentious and emotive and will assist by providing practical advice and guidance to ensure that the obligations to contribute financially to your child’s care and welfare are fair and reasonable.