We are warning parents to beware when objecting to a review by
the Child Support Registrar in relation to a child support
assessment, called a departure application, following a recent
decision of the Full Family Court of Australia Child Support
Registrar v Ahern and Anor  FamCAFC 105.
In this Alert, Partner Geoff Wilson and Associate Helen Davison
discuss this case and the implications for parents paying or
receiving child support via the Child Support Agency.
What are the facts of the case?
In this case a father objected to his child support assessment
for the period 1 May to 29 July 2010 and lodged a departure
application with the Child Support Registrar (the
Registrar). Not happy with the Registrar's decision,
the father appealed to the Social Security Appeals Tribunal
(SSAT). The SSAT set aside the Registrar's
decision and substituted it for their decision for the periods 1
May to 30 June 2010 and 1 July 2010 to 30 June 2013. Because the
SSAT made a decision about a period of 3 years which was not
contained in the father's departure application the father
appealed to the Federal Circuit Court.
Judge Scarlett of the Federal Circuit Court agreed with the
father and said that the SSAT by considering other periods outside
the father's departure application was opening a
"Pandora's Box" because that would mean that the SSAT
would have the power to make decisions about matters not in issue
between the parties. The Registrar appealed the decision to the
Full Court of the Family Court.
The issue for the Full Court became whether the SSAT had the
power to determine the amount of child support payable for periods
other than the particular period which was the subject of the
What did the Full Court decide?
The Full Court of the Family Court decided that under the
relevant child support legislation the Registrar has the power to
make determinations for different periods when deciding departure
applications. The Full Court also held that the SSAT may for the
purposes of reviewing an original decision by the Registrar
exercise all the powers of the Registrar, meaning it also has the
power to make decisions about different periods to that contained
in the departure application. The only requirement is that the
Registrar and SSAT exercise procedural fairness by ensuring that
the period of review is clearly identified.
The Full Court concluded by saying "Thus even at the
initial stage of the departure application, the 'Pandora's
box' which was of concern by Judge Scarlett in his reasons for
judgement in this case, will have been opened."
How could this decision affect you?
This decision is significant because up until this case it was
assumed by most lawyers that when a person objects to a child
support assessment that the Registrar and the SSAT only had the
power to consider the period contained in their departure
application and could not review different periods.
If you receive a child support assessment for a specific period
which you are unhappy with it is now vital that you consider the
benefit of objecting to that assessment verses the risk that the
entire or a another part of the period that you have been paying or
receiving child support could be reviewed. While there will
certainly be times when it is necessary to object to a child
support assessment, the decision should be made in consultation
with a lawyer who specialises in family law to advise you on the
risks involved and to assist with the drafting of the departure
application. This is particularly important if you have been paying
or receiving child support for several years or the amount of child
support paid is significant as the impact of the Registrar or SSAT
opening 'Pandora's box' will be even greater for
If you are doing a Will, or you are the executor of a deceased estate, consider what taxes and duties could be payable.
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