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Child support – what is it and how does it apply to me?

In Australian family law, child support is not solely based on the income of the non-custodial parent. The system is designed to ensure that both parents contribute to the financial support of their children in a way that is fair and reflects their capacity to pay. Here's a more detailed overview.

Child support in Australia

The Australian Child Support Scheme is administered by the Department of Social Services and delivered by Services Australia (often referred to as the Child Support Agency).

Many couples are able to work out how to meet expenses for their children after a separation, without legal support or the involvement of Services Australia. Under a private agreement, parents can decide whether child support should be paid, and whether it is paid from one parent to the other or applied directly to certain expenses. If considering a private agreement, it is a good idea to get some legal advice to understand your legal entitlements and obligations, and also about options to legally record child support arrangements.

When parents can’t agree on child support, Services Australia can undertake an assessment of whether child support should be paid, and if so, which parent is required to pay it to the other.

Child support payments are assessed using a formula based on the income of both parents. The formula considers various factors, including:

  • the number of children and their ages
  • the incomes of both parents, with certain adjustments for necessary self-support
  • the percentage of care each parent provides for the children.

Parents are required to report changes in their income or levels of care of the children. Failure to report changes or providing false information can lead to reassessments and potential legal consequences.

After an assessment is issued, an election can be made about whether Services Australia will collect the payments and pass them on, or if the parties will organise collection of payments directly between them.

Adjustments and special circumstances

Adjustments can be made to the formula-based assessment in special circumstances. This can include situations where:

Higher costs of raising children: The formula can be adjusted if the cost of raising the children is higher than usual, for example, due to medical conditions or educational expenses.

Reduced payments for shared care: If the non-custodial parent spends a significant amount of time with the children (shared care), their child support payments may be reduced proportionately.

Financial circumstances: Either parent can request a review of the child support arrangement if there’s a significant change in circumstances, like a substantial increase or decrease in income, or changes in the care arrangements of the children.

Disputes and legal intervention

If parents disagree with the assessment, they can seek a review through the Department of Human Services or take legal action.

In some cases, parents can agree to a different amount of child support or a different arrangement entirely for the children’s costs. This agreement can be formalised through a court order or a Binding Child Support Agreement.

What’s most important

Stay informed and compliant: It’s important for both parents to stay informed about their rights and responsibilities under the Child Support Scheme and to comply with reporting requirements. Services Australia has broad ranging powers to collect child support from parents who do not pay as required.

Seek legal advice: In cases of dispute or complex situations, seeking legal advice can provide clarity and ensure that arrangements are fair and in the best interests of the children.

Open communication: Open and honest communication between parents can facilitate smoother child support arrangements and adjustments when necessary.