Child support debt and travel bans
International travel is one of our most treasured modern freedoms.
We immerse ourselves in exotic cultures, broaden the horizons of our children and spend quality down time with the ones we love. Perhaps international travel is a means to an end – opening doors to global business deals that pay for those annual family holidays abroad.
Regardless of the purpose, the cost of overseas travel is nothing to sneeze at. Flights and accommodation will usually set you back a couple of paycheques and that’s before insurance, spending money and inevitable unforeseen expenses.
No child support, no play
A recent crackdown on child support arrears has seen the government harness our love for, and reliance on, international travel to reduce outstanding child support debts. The idea is that if parents can afford an expensive overseas holiday, they can afford to support their children.
In a media release from the Minister for Government Services, the Honourable Stuart Robert made the intentions of the crackdown clear:
“The message for parents who refuse to pay child support is simple¬—pay what you owe, or you risk being stopped from travelling overseas … a key priority of the Morrison Government is to ensure the protection of children, which is why we have strong detection and enforcement measures to ensure people pay the child support they owe.”
How does the travel ban work?
Services Australia, formerly the Department of Human Services (Child Support), are able to issue a Departure Prohibition Order (a “DPO”). In effect, a DPO is a travel ban that prevents a parent with an outstanding child support liability (a payer parent) from travelling overseas unless the order is revoked or a periodic exemption is granted.
A DPO is usually issued when a tip-off is made to Services Australia, indicating that a payer parent is intending, or may intend, to travel internationally. A DPO can also be issued when a payer parent has relocated overseas, maintains an outstanding Australian child support debt, returns to Australia for a period of time and then tries to leave the country again.
Technically, a payer parent must be notified as soon as practicable after a DPO has been issued. However, in practice, most payer parents discover they are subject to a travel ban as they present their passport to immigration at the airport’s departure terminal.
Depending on the circumstances at hand, it may be possible to negotiate a satisfactory payment arrangement and apply for a Departure Authorisation Certificate to enable the payer parent’s departure. Alternatively, the DPO may be revoked if the payer parent is able to discharge the debt in full.
How much debt are we talking about?
DPO’s are usually issued to payer parents with over $5,000 in child support arrears. As at 30 June 2019, there were over 4,600 DPO’s in place to recover more than $172 million of child support debt. As at October 2019, more than 850 new DPO’s had been issued with a value of more than $20.5 million.
The Minister for Government Service’s office confirmed that in October 2019, the use of DPO’s were delivering “positive outcomes right across the board”.
How do I avoid a DPO?
Keep up to date with child support payments and make appropriate arrangements to pay off your child support debt prior to travel, avoiding the issuing of a DPO altogether!