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FAMILY LAW ARTICLES

A GUIDE TO CHILD SUPPORT IN AUSTRALIA

For parents, navigating a separation and divorce can be particularly tricky. As your world is turned upside down, you’re trying to keep things in balance for your children. While your first decisions are likely to be about the day-to-day care of your children, the next questions might be about the financial impact of those initial decisions.

If you are going to have the children living with you most of the time, how will this affect your ability to keep a job? How will you afford to support your children financially? Or perhaps your ex-partner is doing most of the care and you’re worried about how much you’ll have to pay in child support?

Here, we step you through the child support scheme in Australia – so you know what to expect and how to get help.

What is child support?

 When we talk about “child support”, we’re talking about payments that are made by one parent to another to ensure children are financially supported by both parents. The system recognises the obligation of both parents to financially support their children.

Child support can be in the form of regular payments, a lump sum payment, payment of certain expenses such as school fees or the transfer of property.

The Child Support (Registration and Collection) Act 1988 and Child Support (Assessment) Act 1989 set out the scheme for child support in Australia. This legislation says the objects of the scheme are not just to ensure children receive proper financial support from parents but also that the amounts payable as child support are “paid on a regular and timely basis.”

Who can claim child support?

A parent of a child under the age of 18 years, who has the care of the child and does not live with the other parent, can claim child support from the other parent.

It doesn’t matter whether you were married to the other parent or whether you’re negotiating a property settlement, claiming spousal maintenance or have divorce proceedings on foot. The child support process can be dealt with separately from these other issues, orders and proceedings.

To claim child support, both parents should generally be living in Australia. However, in some circumstances it may be possible to claim child support from outside Australia or from someone living outside of Australia.

Who should pay child support?

The question of whether one parent should pay child support, and how much, comes down to a few factors, including:

  •   the number of children and their ages
  •   your income
  •   the other parent’s income
  •   how often you care for the children
  •   how often the other parent cares for the children.

The assessment guidelines indicate you’ll receive child support if your percentage of care of a child is more than your share of the combined income. Similarly, expect to pay child support if your percentage of care of a child is less than your share of the combined income.

If you’re providing 90% of the care and gave up your career 10 years ago to raise the children, while your ex continues to bring home a healthy 6-figure income, it’s easy to see that your ex should be providing financial support for the children.

However, the issue isn’t always so clear cut. And even when it is, how do you work out exactly how much support should be provided?

Your child support options

If you and the other parent can agree on how much child support to pay, and how and when it will be paid, you can choose self management for child support.

If you’ve reached an agreement and want to make things more formal, you can enter into an agreement about cash payments and things like health insurance and school fees via:

  •   a limited child support agreement
  •   a binding child support agreement (a written agreement signed by both parents which can only be made if you’ve both had legal advice).

These agreements are sometimes negotiated at the time of property settlement, and are sometimes used in the negotiations. For example, one party might say they will take only 50% in a property settlement rather than 55% if you enter into their propoded child support agreement.

Child Support

If you can’t reach an agreement about child support, you can apply for a child support assessment.

Services Australia manages the application process for child support assessment. They’ll use a formula to calculate your child support for a certain period.

Once an assessment is made, you’ll need to tell Services Australia if your income, relationship status, care arrangements or other details change.

How do child support payments affect Centrelink benefits?

If you self-manage your child support you need to be aware that you can only get the base rate of Family Tax Benefit Part A. So, you may need to apply for a child support assessment if you want to receive more than the base rate of Family Tax Benefit Part A.

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What if my ex fails to make child support payments?

Services Australia will help your recover unpaid child support payments if you use their Child Support Collection option to collect payments. They have a range of options available, including deducting money from payments from employers and tax returns or seizing assets.

You can also turn to the Courts in limited circumstances, too. The Court will only hear certain disputes about child support, including:

  • an application for a declaration that a person is or is not a parent of a child for the purposes of paying or not paying child support
  • an urgent application for the payment of child support
  • an application for leave to depart from an administrative assessment for a period over 18 months but less than seven years ago
  • an application for child support to be paid in a form other than periodic amounts
  • an application to set aside a binding child support agreement if the agreement was obtained by fraud, undue influence or duress or there are exceptional circumstances
  • an application to set aside a limited child support agreement if there has been a significant change in circumstances of one of the parties or the annual rate of child support is not proper or adequate
  • an application for a stay order temporarily suspending or reducing the payment of child support until a final order is made
  • an application about child maintenance or overseas child maintenance orders.

If the other parent is not making payments, or not making payments as agreed, you should seek advice from our Sydney child support lawyers as soon as possible. There are ways we can help you get financial security for your children.

Finally, keep in mind that this guide provides general advice only. While it can help you understand the system better, getting tailored advice from our child support lawyers before making any decisions is the ideal option.

Whether you need advice on how much child support you should receive or pay, assistance in preparing an application or help registering an agreement, we can help. Contact our Sydney family lawyers today.

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