Originally Published December 2006
The original Child Support Scheme established under the Child Support Act 1988 has recently been subjected to review and criticism from several areas. A number of parliamentary committees and at least one taskforce have examined the Child Support Scheme in depth and have made recommendations in respect of shared parenting.
These recommendations included a change to the child support formula and cultural changes within the Child Support Agency ("CSA"). As the Family Law Amendment (Shared Parental Responsibility) Act 2006 has now been implemented, the changes to the Child Support Scheme are designed to foster shared parenting and to ensure that parents share equally the cost of bringing up children.
The changes to the child support system, in particular changes to the formulae, are very complex. The CSA has advised that it is presently writing new versions of the online calculators to take into account the changes in the formulae. It envisages that these calculators will be operational by 2008, to ensure that sufficient time is available for them to be tested.
It would appear from the reading of the legislation that it will be imperative to take into account the time a client will spend with their children when calculating what child support liability they will face.
It would appear from rough calculations that child support assessment may be reduced and parents may share such things as the family tax benefit where the level of contact of a non-parent equates to 5 nights out of 14 nights.
Hopefully, the changes to how child support assessments are calculated will bring about some equality in respect of assessments and there will be some incentives for parents to enter into and remain in shared parenting arrangements in order to minimise child support liability.
When advising clients, all practitioners should be mindful of the amount of time that children will spend with each parent, and should suggest that the client at least consider a shared parenting option. It will also be necessary to provide clients with advice as to how their child support liability will be affected if they wish to partake in regular care of their children.
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