27 April 2024

When can a parent stop paying child support?

Unified Lawyers


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Various factors can impact the time frame for child support payments, or the amount of child support required.
Australia Family and Matrimonial
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Key Takeaways:

  • Typically required until a child turns 18, child support may extend if they're still in school, or end sooner if they become financially independent or marry.
  • Adjustments to child support can occur due to changes like a child's independence or alterations in care arrangements.
  • Terminating child support involves legal procedures and potentially court involvement. Ensure all debts are settled and seek legal advice to navigate the termination process effectively.

Becoming a parent brings the financial responsibility to support your child, a duty shared by both parents even if their relationship ends through divorce or separation. Child support is the financial aid one parent provides to the other parent for raising their child together, though not cohabiting. The funds are intended for child-rearing expenses, though there are no strict rules on the exact usage of these payments. Parents can either agree privately on the amount of child support or, in cases of disagreement, seek an assessment from Services Australia to determine the obligations.

Typically, child support continues until the child turns 18, but there are situations where it may end sooner or extend beyond this age. In this article, our child custody lawyers Sydney offer insights into the complexities of child support payments and address the frequently asked question: when do you stop paying child support?

When does child support officially end?

Child support, in most cases, is required to be paid until the child turns 18 or if they are still in secondary education, the child support payments may be required until they finish schooling. However, while this is generally the case, it's important to note that child support is not a static obligation, rather, various factors can impact the time frame that child support payments are required, as well as the amount of child support that is required to be paid.

Changes that can impact child support payments

Besides a child's age and education, other factors that can influence whether child support is required or not, include:

  • if there is a change in care arrangements, for example, if the child moves in with the parent who has been paying child support, the payments could be adjusted or may be ended;
  • if the child dies or the paying parent passes away;
  • if the child marries;
  • if the child enters into a de facto relationship;
  • if the child receives certain government support payments;
  • if the child becomes financially independent, usually through full time work;

In addition to the above factors, there could also be a private child support agreement between the parents where certain clauses or conditions need to be met, which may trigger changes or cessation to the child support payments. And while in many cases child support ceases when a child turns 18, it is possible to extend child support payments when ongoing financial support is required after the child turns 18. This is known as child maintenance or adult child maintenance. Child maintenance is usually only payable when the child is genuinely unable to support themselves financially, such as in situations where the child is still in secondary school or if the child has a mental or physical disability that requires ongoing support.

Do I still have to pay child support if my child drops out of school?

If a child moves from school to full-time work, child support obligations may end, as this may be considered as being financially independent. However, it's important to note that a child's earnings from casual or after-school work, or from insignificant financial contributions like gifts and pocket money, are typically not considered when adjusting child support payments.

A child leaving school and starting work before they turn 18 doesn't automatically stop the child support payment obligation, but it may be grounds for the parent who is paying child support to be able to apply to have their child support assessment reviewed and reassessed. It's important to communicate with the child support agency if your child leaves school and begins full-time employment.

Does child support stop if the child gets a job in Australia?

Child support payments could potentially end if the child gets a job. As we touched on above, if the job is casual or an after-school job, this is likely to not impact the obligation to pay child support payments. If the child is working full-time or is considered to be financially independent based on their income amount, then it is possible that child support payments may no longer be required.

What about if I give up my parental rights?

In Australia, surrendering your parental rights, which includes custody and decision-making powers, does not automatically absolve you from your child support obligations. Despite severing legal ties between you and your child, the child's financial security and right to receive support may still be upheld by the Court.

Termination of child support payments is subject to specific terminating events as defined by child support laws, not just the relinquishment of parental rights. This process requires a formal Court application, and the Court prioritises the child's welfare when assessing such cases.

If my child moves out of home, do I have to keep paying child support?

If your child moves out of home, whether you need to continue paying child support will depend on several factors. For children under 18 who are not living with either parent and cannot support themselves, you may still be obligated to pay child support.

Conversely, if the child is over 18, financially independent, or not engaged in full-time education, you might be able to cease payments. It's crucial to communicate with Services Australia or consult with a family law professional to understand how your specific situation affects your child support duties. Adjustments to child support are not automatic and usually require a formal assessment or agreement review.

The Process for Ending Child Support Payments

To end child support payments, you'll need to start by notifying the Department of Human Services (part of Services Australia) about any significant life changes, such as your child reaching the age of 18 or a change in living arrangements. This notification prompts a reassessment by the department, which then determines whether and when the child support should conclude.

If your child support is governed by a binding child support agreement, the termination process requires mutual consent between both parties. This can be achieved through a termination agreement that both parties sign or by drafting a new agreement that supersedes the old one. Maintaining open communication with your former partner and the child support agency is crucial to ensure a smooth and agreeable transition.

Additionally, ensure that any arrears or outstanding payments are fully settled. This step is crucial as unpaid child support can extend your financial obligations beyond the intended period of support. Keep detailed records of all communications and decisions related to ending child support payments. These documents are invaluable for future reference or in resolving potential disputes. Should complexities or disputes arise during this process, seeking legal advice can provide you with the necessary guidance to protect your interests and comply with legal requirements.

Is there a Statute of limitations on child support?

Yes, there is a statute of limitations on collecting unpaid child support in Australia. Generally, you have 12 years from the date a payment was due to initiate legal action to recover unpaid child support. This is important for both the paying parent and the receiving parent to note, especially if there have been changes in circumstances, such as when a child turns 18 or finishes secondary education.

After this period, enforcing the unpaid child support through the Court system may no longer be possible. It's advisable to seek legal advice or consult with Services Australia for specific guidance related to your child support arrangement and any implications for child maintenance. This ensures you are informed about how family law may affect your financial support obligations and rights.

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