Child support is a payment made to the primary parent of a child from the non-primary parent for the financial costs of caring for their child.
How much Child Support do I have to pay?
Payments for child support are based on a formula which takes into account each parent's income, the number of children and the child's living arrangements.
The child support section of Services Australia is responsible for assessing and collecting child support payments.
Services Australia usually determines a monthly amount payable for child support which can be paid:
- through Services Australia
- by way of a private collection arrangement between parents - where payment is made directly into a bank account
Some useful information and tools to calculate and estimate of your child support liability from Services Australia can be accessed here.
What happens upon an assessment being made?
Once an assessment is made for you to pay child support, you must make the payments as assessed.
If you fail to make payments, then Services Australia has various coercive tools and measures at its disposal to enforce the payment.
What if I want to make a private child support agreement?
What if parents do not want to go through Services Australia to determine their child support obligations or if they want a different payment regime to what has been assessed?
In those circumstances, there are two types of private written agreements that parties can enter into under the Child Support (Assessment) Act 1989.
- A Limited Child Support Agreement: This does not require the parties to obtain legal advice, usually lasts for three years, requires a child support assessment to be in place and the child support payment must be equal to or more than the assessment
- A Binding Child Support Agreement: This requires parties to obtain legal advice, does not require a child support assessment to be in place and can be for any amount.
Regardless of which type of private agreement you choose, the agreement has to be registered with Services Australia to be enforceable.
Importantly, if a party agrees to receive less than the assessed child support amount then:
- They cannot apply to Centrelink to increase their benefits to make up the difference in the shortfall amount; and
- Payment of the Family Tax Benefit Part A will be on the basis of that party receiving the Services Australia assessed amount
Can I challenge the amount of child support I have been assessed to pay?
If a parent believes that Services Australia has incorrectly calculated the amount of child support payable or that it is not fair, they can object to the decision.
The objection must be made by the deadline set in Services Australia's decision letter.
Services Australia will then internally review the decision.
Can I apply to change my Child Support assessment?
You can make an application to Services Australia to change an assessment. For your application to be successful you will need to establish "special circumstances".
There are 10 grounds on which you can claim circumstances for changing an assessment. These are:
- The cost to a parent of spending time with or communicating with the child is high (more than 5% of your income).
- The child the subject of the assessment has special needs, for example a disability.
- There are significant costs in caring for, educating or training the child in the way that both parents intended. A common example is the child attending a private school which the parents previously agreed to.
- The child has their own income, earning capacity, property or financial resources, for example - the child is employed or has received inheritance.
- A parent has transferred or provided property or money to a child.
- The costs of child care are high (more than 5% of your income).
- A parent's own expenses reduce their ability to support a child.
- The assessment did not consider either or both parent's capacity to earn or their property or financial resources. For example, a party may be refusing to return to work or obtain employment to their full capacity so as to receive more child support than they should.
- A parent supports another person or child, for example - a new partner.
- A parent has responsibility to support a resident child, ie a child that lives with that parent.
You must provide evidence to support your application.
Any one of the grounds is sufficient to trigger a variation.
Once your application is processed, Services Australia can decide to:
- Keep the current assessment in place
- Change the assessment as has been requested; or
- Change the assessment in any other way
If you believe that you qualify for special circumstances, then you should make your application as soon as possible, as some decisions cannot be back-dated.
Can I make a one-off payment to finalise my Child Support obligations?
Yes, if this is an agreement between you and the other parent.
Any such payment will need to be set out in a Binding Child Support Agreement.
Do I have to pay child support for an adult child?
Generally, a parent's child support liability ends at the later of a child turning 18 or finishing year 12.
It is not uncommon for children to remain living with a parent after they have turned 18 while they pursue further studies.
If a child is over 18 and completing further education while residing at a parent's home, then a parent can make an application to the court seeking an order that the other parent to pay adult child maintenance.
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.