What is child support?
Parents are responsible for the financial support of their children. The purpose of child support is to help parents share the cost of raising children. Hence it seeks to alleviate any imbalance caused by unequal care arrangements and economic circumstances.
Payments will usually pass from one parent to another. However, in some situations it can be paid by parents to another person who is living with and caring for the children.
How much should be paid?
The amount payable can be determined by a few factors:
1. based on an informal agreement (like a handshake agreement);
2. based on a formal agreement;
3. by applying for a child support assessment; or
4. by decision of the Family Court, in some limited situations.
Who makes the assessment?
Services Australia, through its Child Support program makes child support assessments. Formerly known as the Department of Human Services, this governmental agency officially changed its name to Services Australia on 1 February 2020. Services Australia’s child support services branch is most widely known as the “Child Support Agency” or the “CSA”, but neither of these terms are technically current.
How is it assessed?
A child support assessment is the most common method of determining how much is payable. Services Australia uses a complicated formula that is set out in legislation to work out an appropriate amount. The formula takes into account:
- the income of both parents;
- whether the parents are supporting other children;
- the amount of time each parent cares for the children;
- the costs of raising children; and
- the basic living needs of the parents.
What is a formal agreement for payment?
Parents can enter into a formal written agreement if they can agree on the amount of that arrangement. There are two types of formal agreements:
- Binding Child Support Agreement. This type of agreement does not require involvement of Services Australia. Payments may be less than the ordinarily assessed amount and can be paid directly from one parent to another. It is essential to obtain legal advice before entering into a Binding Child Support Agreement. The Family Court is the only body that can revoke or alter an agreement (usually initiated by a party making an application first.)
- Limited Child Support Agreement. This type of agreement requires a child support assessment from Services Australia and payments reflected in the agreement cannot be less than the assessed amount. While not essential, we always encourage getting independent legal advice on child support arrangements. This is because parties can terminate This agreement can be terminated by agreement or at the discretion of either party at the conclusion of a three year period.
Will it affect my government benefits?
Support payments can vary for parents that already receive the ‘Family Tax Benefit (Part A)’. This variation will depend on the amount of support you already receive.
How do I dispute an assessment?
If you disagree with an assessment made by Services Australia, you may lodge a written objection with them to have the assessment reviewed.
When do payments end?
A child may receive child support until they reach 18 years of age. Payment may end before a child turns 18 years old if that child becomes financially independent, gets married or is in a de facto relationship.
Payment of “child maintenance” for children over the age of 18 years old may be necessary where they are yet to graduate from secondary school or have a disability which prevents them from supporting themselves.
“Can I stop my ex from seeing our kids if they refuse to pay?”
The Family Court considers the payment of child support and parenting arrangements to be quite separate. This is because the best interests of children are the most important consideration when determining appropriate parenting arrangements and the benefit of children having a meaningful relationship with each of their parents plays a big part in this. Therefore, if there is one parent who refuses to pay adequate support, the Family Court will certainly take this refusal into account when making parenting decisions in any given matter.
What happens if one parent does not pay?
Services Australia has varying options available to recover child support debt, depending on the overdue amount, how long it remains unpaid and the conduct of the payer. Some of these options include:
- Working with third party debt recovery agencies;
- Enforcing the lodgement of income tax returns and deducting the amount from a tax refund;
- Deducting the amount from Centrelink income support payments, personal bank accounts or employer salary or wage payments;
- Issuing overseas travel bans (see our blog XXX);
- Litigation; and
- Criminal prosecution for serious acts of fraud.