For separating couples, figuring out child support arrangements can be a difficult process. From experience we have found approaching these discussions with a basic understanding of how the child support system works can be very helpful in working towards an arrangement both parties are happy with. In this article we cover our most frequently asked questions such as who pays child support, how child support is calculated and whether the assessment covers private school fees.
WHAT IS CHILD SUPPORT?
Child support is an amount of money transferred between separated parents used to help with the financial cost of raising their child/children.
Child support payments can be transferred privately between parents, by agreement, or the parent who receives the payments can ask the Department of Human Services, Child Support Division ("the Department") to collect the money on their behalf.
WHO PAYS CHILD SUPPORT?
All parents have an obligation to financially support their children whether they are separated, divorced or even if they never married and never lived together.
If parents do not live together then it is likely that one parent will be eligible to receive child support.
When a parent makes an application for child support, that application requires both parents to be assessed in respect of the costs of their child/children.
As both parents are assessed, who receives and who pays child support and the amount of child support payable will depend on the incomes of both parents and the parental care they each provide.
It is likely that a parent will be required to pay child support, in circumstances where:
- the other parent is the primary carer to the child/children; and/or
- that parent's income is more than the other parent's income.
WHEN IS CHILD SUPPORT PAYABLE?
A parent can make an Application for child support if they are not living with the other parent on a genuine domestic basis.
Child support is payable in relation to children in circumstances where:
- the child's parents do not live together on a genuine domestic basis;
- the child is under the age of 18 years;
- the child is not a member of a couple.
The child is a resident of Australia or the child and the parent eligible to receive child support are residents of a country from a reciprocating jurisdiction.
HOW DO I APPLY FOR CHILD SUPPORT?
You can make an Application for child support, after you and the other parent have separated, by:
- calling 131 272 to make an application over the phone;
- completing and lodging the forms on the Department's website at www.humanservices.gov.au; or
- completing an "Application for Child Support Assessment" form and mailing or faxing it to the Department (as per the details on the form).
HOW IS CHILD SUPPORT CALCULATED?
Child support is calculated using one of six formulas. To calculate a Child Support Assessment the Child Support Registrar ("the Registrar") takes into account, the following:
- each parents' incomes;
- the percentage of nights that the child spends with each parent each year;
- the percentage of the child's costs for which each parent is responsible based on their care of the child; and
- the costs of the child.
IS THE OTHER PARENT REQUIRED TO CONTRIBUTE TOWARDS PRIVATE SCHOOL FEES?
In calculating a Child Support Assessment the Registrar does not usually take private school fees into account.
However, a parent can apply for a change of assessment in special circumstances if the costs of maintaining a child are significantly affected by high costs of caring for, educating or training the child in the way both parents intended.
The party applying for a change to their assessment has to show that there are additional costs involved in maintaining the child because of an agreement between the parents about how the child will be maintained.
In cases involving school fees and other associated costs, the Registrar will generally determine whether both parents agreed to the child being educated in the way outlined in the application. The Registrar will also consider the financial situation of both parents. The fact that a payer can afford to pay the fees, or is a wealthy person, is not in itself a reason for imposing a liability to contribute to school fees.
Where a parent agreed to the child attending a private school they will be liable to contribute to the fees to the extent that they have the financial capacity. Where a parent has not agreed to the child attending a private school they will not be liable to contribute to the fees unless there are reasons relating to the child's welfare that mean that the child should attend a private school.
WHAT IS A CHILD SUPPORT AGREEMENT?
A Child Support Agreement is a written agreement between parents setting out the amount of child support to be paid to help with the financial costs of raising their children after separation. It can include provisions regarding the payment of periodic child support as well as provisions regarding the payment of outgoings for children, including but not limited to education costs, extra-curricular costs and health costs.
A Child Support Agreement must meet the requirements of the legislation. In order to be a Binding Child Support Agreement, both parties must have obtained independent legal advice in respect of the Agreement. For more information about Child Support Agreements, we recommend you seek legal advice.
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The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.