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Whether you’re paying it or receiving it, child support can be a sensitive topic to work through after a separation occurs. As specialists in family law, we offer expert guidance and support throughout the process of applying for, negotiating, and enforcing child support agreements. We’ll explain your rights and entitlements as well as the different pathways you can use to organise child support, so you’re clear on how to move forward.

Understanding child support

Child support is money one parent pays to the other parent to contribute to the day-to-day expenses for their children following a separation or divorce.

In Australia, child support is dealt with through an administrative scheme administered by the Department of Human Services (Services Australia). Services Australia, sometimes known as the Child Support Agency, helps parents to work out how much child support should be paid for children’s day-to-day expenses, based on a formula. This is sometimes called an ‘administrative assessment’. Services Australia also assists parents to collect and enforce payments of child support.

An administrative assessment of child support covers basic living costs like food, clothing, housing, transport, medical expenses and school costs. Often parents decide to contribute to additional costs for the children like school fees, medical costs and extra-curricular activities. This might be because the formula is insufficient to pay the actual costs of the children, or because the parents want to maintain the opportunities and requirements of the children pre-separation, after separation.

A good place to start to understand how much child support you might pay or receive, is by using the Services Australia online estimator here.

How to obtain child support

Assessment by Services Australia: Many child support arrangements begin with asking the Child Support Agency to issue an administrative assessment. The assessment calculates the amount of support using a formula that considers both parents' taxable incomes, the number of children and the living arrangements of the children. Either parent can request an assessment be undertaken by Services Australia.

Private agreements: Parents can also agree on child support payments independently. This can support a tailored approach to ensuring that everyone’s needs and circumstances are met.

A private child support agreement can be informal and undocumented. You can also legally record an agreement about child support, so you have greater comfort that you will be able to rely on it for a long time. This can be done in a Limited or Binding Child support Agreement.

Whichever option you take, it is critical to get some advice as the laws relating to child support are complicated. Your private arrangement can have an ongoing impact on your rights and entitlements.

Court proceedings: Sometimes child support issues are dealt with by the Federal Circuit Court and Family of Australia, although this is less common. The Court deals with child support and child maintenance only in certain situations and with pre-conditions being met. Typically, this is in relation to appeals (where the AAT does not apply), child support departure orders, or adult child maintenance.

FAQs

What age does child support stop?

Child support is payable for children who are under 18, or if your child is in their final year of schooling (full time), then it continues until the child’s last day of the school year.

After this, adult child maintenance can apply. Adult child maintenance can require one or both parents to continue financial support for the adult child, to ensure their proper needs are met. To qualify, the child must be undertaking tertiary study or have a disability of medical condition limiting their ability to become independent.

Do I have to pay child support to the other parent? How do I know they will spend it on the children?

Services Australia does not regulate how payments of child support are spent by the receiving parent. That parent has discretion about how child support is applied as part of their household costs.

As the receiving parent, you can elect to have Services Australia collect the payments of child support from the paying parent and then pass them onto you, or you can have them paid directly to you under a ‘private collect’ arrangement.

Sometimes Services Australia will treat a payment made to a third party or an organisation, as a payment that should be credited as part of a child support liability. This is known as a ‘non-agency payment’. It can occur when both parties agree, or Services Australia decides that the parents intended the payment should be credited. Common accepted payments include for childcare and school fees, medical or dental costs or the receiving parent’s share of household bills such as rates or mortgage repayments.

I’m not caring for my children. Do I still have to pay child support?

Yes. Child support is paid regardless of how much or little care you have of your children. That is because every parent has a legal obligation to contribute to their child’s financial needs.

What is the difference between a ‘limited’ and a ‘binding child support’ agreement?

Limited Child Support Agreements are formal agreements between parents to record child support arrangements. These agreements don't require legal advice to be provided, but they are only able to be in place for up to three years and they cannot make provision for child support to be paid at a rate that is less than the rate assessed by Services Australia. Parents can agree to end them at an earlier time, or extend them, if there are changes to their situation.

Binding Child Support Agreements are more formal, requiring both parties to receive independent legal advice in relation to the terms of the agreement, the benefits and/or disadvantages of it, and the effect it will have upon your legal rights and entitlements. These types of agreements can provide a greater degree of certainty than a limited agreement. A Binding Child Support Agreement continues indefinitely, unless certain conditions are met, or both parties agree to terminate it and enter a termination agreement.

A Binding Child Support Agreements are not easily changed after they are entered into, which means it is critical to have an expert who knows the intricacies of child support and parenting laws to help you work out if it is right for you, and if so, what should or should not be included in it.

Can child support arrangements be changed?

Yes. If there is an administrative assessment in place, changes to your circumstances or your former partner’s circumstances – like your level of care of the children changing, incomes varying or other dependent children arriving – can result in the administrative assessment changing.

Parents can also apply to have Services Australia reconsider the assessment that has been made for their children. This is referred to as a ‘Change of Assessment’. There are ten reasons or ‘special circumstances’ under which you can request a reconsideration of child support. You can view them here.

Private agreements can also be renegotiated, if both parties agree. Formal Child Support Agreements can be set aside by a Court but only in very rare and limited circumstances where there has been an exceptional change in circumstances occur.

What if my ex-partner is not paying child support?

If the other parent is not meeting their child support obligations under an assessment, Services Australia can enforce payment. For private agreements, a combination of help from Services Australia and other legal action may be necessary. Our team can guide you through this process and options available to you.

What do I do if seeking child support will put me or my children at risk of family violence?

Services Australia can coordinate obtaining payment from them on your behalf, including by having deductions being made from their wages or tax refunds or commencing Court action against them.

You can also seek an exemption from having to apply for child support, if you believe asking for child support puts you or your children at risk. If you do not pursue child support when required to by Centrelink, it may affect other allowances and benefits, including Family Tax Benefit, that you receive. Speak to a lawyer about your options or discuss your concerns with Services Australia, who can assign a social worker to your case.

How we can help

  • Assessment and agreements: we can help you to navigate and understand the assessment process, negotiate private agreements. We can draft and advise on Limited and Binding Child Support agreements, to ensure they are properly documented.
  • Dispute resolution and enforcement: our team can assist in resolving disputes over child support, including seeking court orders.
  • Advice on changing circumstances: we provide advice on how changes in circumstances, such as a change in income or care arrangements, can affect child support and what steps to take if you think your child support arrangement is not fair.

Why work with us?

  • Expert guidance: our team has extensive experience in child support matters, offering clear, practical advice tailored to your situation.
  • Client-centred approach: we prioritise your children's well-being and look at the ‘big picture’. We work tirelessly to ensure you have certainty about your financial needs.
  • Comprehensive support: from administrative assessments to enforcing agreements, we're with you at every step of the way. You’ll have the support and representation you need with us walking alongside you.

Securing your children's financial future

Child support is essential for your children's security and well-being. We’re committed to helping you navigate the complexities of child support to secure a positive outcome for your family. Contact us to discuss how we can assist with your child support matters to secure a fair and sustainable child support arrangement.

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