Child Support

Child Support is an amount assessed under the Child Support (Assessment) Act that may be payable by one parent to the other until the child reaches 18 years of age.

Child Support is rarely as simple as 1 + 1 = 2. Our Family Lawyers know the ins and outs of the Child Support system and can help you understand what you can do to improve your Child Support situation.

Child Support can be complicated and difficult to understand. You should speak to your Specialist Family Lawyer about your options and how you should deal with Child Support in your circumstances.

The Basics

Child Support is an ongoing, periodic payment, usually from one (1) parent to the other, for the financial benefit of the child/ren following the end of a marriage or relationship. Child Support may also be paid to non-parent carers of the child/ren, such as grandparents or legal guardians.

Private Child Support Arrangements

You do not have to go through the Child Support Agency to work out Child Support arrangements with the other parent. You and the other parent can come to a private agreement about how much Child Support is to be paid, when and what it will cover.

You don’t need to get a Child Support Assessment if this is how you want to proceed, however, in this type of informal arrangement, either party can at any time approach the Child Support Agency for a formal assessment of the Child Support payable and, once the assessment is made, the paying parent becomes liable to pay the Child Support despite the earlier agreement.

Private Child Support arrangements can work well if both parents are on the same page about what Child Support covers and how much is to be paid. Further, it is only successful where the paying parent does not default. In the case of default, there is no way to pursue overdue payments.

Child Support Assessments

Where parents are not completely on the same page about Child Support arrangements, one (1) party might opt for a Child Support Assessment to be made by the Child Support Agency.

In Australia, our Child Support scheme is administered by Child Support (the Child Support Agency) which is operated by the Department of Human Services. The Child Support Agency performs the following:

  • Receives applications for Child Support Assessments from a parent,
  • Makes a calculation of how much one (1) parent is to pay to the other for the costs of care of the child/ren,
  • Collects the periodic Child Support payments from the paying parent, and
  • Transfers these payments to the receiving parent.
Calculating the amount of Child Support payable

Child Support is assessed using a complex 8-step formula which takes into consideration the following:

  • The income of each parent,
  • The costs of care of each child (this is a set amount which is arrived at by using the combined income of the parents, the number of children and the ages of the child/ren), and
  • How many nights per year the child/ren are in each parent’s care.

The effect of this formula is that the Child Support Agency:

  1. Firstly, deducts an amount for each parent to support themselves.
  2. Then, calculates the costs of raising child/ren according to the remaining combined Child Support income of both parents.
  3. Finally, the costs of the child/ren are divided between the parents according to their share of the combined income.
Child Support Calculator

You can calculate the amount of Child Support that may be assessed in your circumstances by using this Child Support Calculator provided on the Child Support website.

Private Collect vs Child Support Collect

Once a Child Support Assessment has been made, the receiving parent can choose whether the payments will be made privately by the other parent to them (“Private Collect”), or whether they want Child Support to collect payments and forward the payment to them (“Child Support Collect”).

Private Collect has the advantage of parents being able to be flexible about Child Support including whether payments are paid directly to the receiving parent or directly for school fees or similar, or easily changing the Child Support payable if the child/ren’s circumstances change. However, if the paying parent defaults on payments, the Child Support Agency can only collect overdue payments going back three (3) months (and nine (9) months in exceptional circumstances). Private Collect may also affect Family Tax Benefit payments, so Centrelink will need to be informed where Private Collect is chosen.

Where there is a risk of late payments or a paying parent does not lodge annual tax returns, the receiving parent should opt for Child Support Collect, where the Child Support Agency is responsible for collecting payments from the paying parent and forwarding them to the receiving parent. The Child Support Agency can pursue all arrears payable under Child Support Collect and can also calculate the Family Tax Benefit payable.

Objecting to a Child Support Assessment

If you disagree with a decision made by the Child Support Agency you may wish to lodge an objection. An objection is a request to formally review the decision. All objections must be made in writing or by using an ‘Objecting to a Child Support decision’ form available online.

The time limit for making an objection is 28 days from the date of receiving the original decision (this time limit is 90 days if you live outside Australia in a reciprocating jurisdiction). If you are unhappy with the outcome of the reconsideration of the assessment, you can make a further application to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal within 28 days of the decision on your objection.

If your matter is already in the Federal Circuit Court or Family Court, it may be possible to make an application for a Departure Order from an existing Child Support Assessment. You can also review the decision of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal through the Court.

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Child Support Agreements

Limited Child Support Agreement

A Limited Child Support Agreement enables you to arrange with the other parent to change how Child Support is paid, provided that the amount paid is equivalent to, or greater than, the assessed amount of Child Support.

A Limited Child Support Agreement enables you to make arrangements about payments directly to school, or payments in kind, such as a payment towards the home loan, rather than receiving weekly or fortnightly payment of funds.

A Limited Child Support Agreement can be made by completing a form provided by Child Support. There is no requirement that either party obtain legal advice for a Limited Child Support Agreement to be valid.

Binding Child Support Agreement

Parents can agree to an amount of Child Support that is less than the assessed amount by entering into a Binding Child Support Agreement. Parties must have obtained independent legal advice as to the pros and cons of a Binding Child Support Agreement and a certificate provided by each of the Solicitors who have provided such advice.

A Binding Child Support Agreement may be helpful when:

  • The parties have agreed to a Property Division on the basis that the paying parent not having to pay the full amount of the Child Support assessed. Rather, the parties might agree that the receiving parent receive a higher amount than they would otherwise have in order to afford to retain the home but forego the full amount of periodic Child Support that has been assessed.
  • Where Parenting Arrangements may be resisted by a parent on the basis that they will have to pay more Child Support. Using a Binding Child Support Agreement, the Parenting Arrangement can be altered without the Child Support Assessment following suit.

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What is Child Support meant to cover? 

The amount of Child Support that the Child Support Agency calculates that one (1) parent is to pay to the other is meant to cover all the costs of raising the child/ren including food, entertainment, clothing, schooling and healthcare. The costs of care of a child is worked out through independent research and is increased each year to account for inflation.

The costs of care of the child/ren takes into consideration the parents’ combined incomes, the number and age(s) of the child/ren, to arrive at a likely amount that parents on a particular household income would spend on their child/ren.

What if there is a doubt as to paternity? 

Provided that your name is on the child’s birth certificate, the Child Support Agency will make an assessment relating to you as the child’s parent. To bring an end to this assessment, you will need to apply to the Court for a declaration that you are not the child’s parent which is supported by a negative paternity test. You then need to apply to have your name taken off the child’s Birth Certificate and apply to Child Support to bring the assessment to an end.

If you have paid Child Support to a person who has alleged that you are the father where they knew that you were not actually the father, there is an opportunity for you to seek the return of all Child Support payments made.

What if our circumstances change?

If your employment or income changes, or the amount of time that the child/ren spend with you changes, you should notify the Child Support Agency. Once the Child Support Agency is notified, it will do an updated assessment (if required) to change the Child Support payable once the change occurs. You should notify the Child Support Agency without delay as, even where an assessed amount changes, it will not backdate the assessment.

How do I make an application for a Child Support Assessment? 

Go to the Child Support Agency website and make an online application.