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The process of deciding who pays child support can be complicated. To safeguard the best interests of children, the court considers a range of factors. To help you through this process, the following information will allow you to better understand Australia’s child support laws.
What Is Child Support?
Child support is a form of financial support designed to help parents cover the costs of day-to-day care. The parent who pays child support is known as the ‘payer parent’ while the recipient is referred to as the ‘payee parent/carer’.
Child support amounts can vary depending on how much money each parent makes and the child’s living arrangements. The Department of Human Services (formerly the Child Support Agency) is responsible for overseeing child support payments.
Different Types of Child Support
Depending on their unique situation, families can receive different types of child support payments. Most payments fit into one of the following categories:
- Periodic payments – Regular payments involving similar amounts of money. Usually determined by the child support formula and paid via the Child Support Agency.
- Non-periodic payments – Non-periodic payments can be used to pay for expenses like school fees. These type of payments can be partially made within the formula assessment, but more usually by agreement.
- Lump-sum provision – Paid as a credit balance, the court must decide what percentage of a lump-sum provision can be used to cover ongoing costs. A court order of this type is unusual, more commonly an order of this nature would be by agreement.
These are the most common categories of child support, although other types of payments do exist. For example, it’s not uncommon for parents to make non-cash transactions by exchanging property however an agreement for this to be credited to child support should be clearly documented. Payments can also be made to a third party to cover a child support debt.
How is Child Support Calculated?
Unless separated parents can come to a private agreement, child support amounts are calculated by the Department of Human Services using the following 8-step formula:
- Each parent’s taxable income is calculated.
- These incomes are added together to determine a combined child support income.
- Each parent’s income percentage is calculated by dividing their incomes by the combined total.
- Using the care and cost table, each parent’s cost percentage is calculated.
- Each parent’s percentage of care is calculated.
- Each parent’s cost percentage is subtracted from the income percentage. This calculation determines which parent will receive child support. The parent with a negative percentage receives child support, while the parent with a positive percentage pays child support.
- The costs for the child are then worked out using the costs of children
- The total amount of child support is decided by multiplying the positive child support percentage by the costs of the child.
This formula only applies to parents with one child support assessment. The process for parents with multiple assessments is similar, but the formula is a little more complicated.
Either parent can apply for a child support assessment. When an application is accepted, both parents will be notified of the calculations and amounts involved. Before an application can be accepted, the Department of Human Services must be satisfied that both parents mentioned in the assessment are the legal parents of the children involved.
Can a Child Support Assessment Be Opposed?
If you don’t agree with a child support assessment, you can request the Department of Human Services to review it. You should only oppose the assessment if you think incorrect information may have influenced the department’s decision.
To oppose the decision, you will need to file an Objecting to a Child Support Decision form. You must submit this form to the Department of Human Services within 28 days of receiving the department’s decision letter. If you do not live in Australia, this timeframe is extended to 90 days.
Enforcing Child Support
If the payer parent fails to meet their financial obligations, the payee parent/carer must notify the Department of Human Services. The department has the power to take child support out of the payer parent’s salary or tax return. The parent owed child support can personally (if they wish) pursue enforcement for the outstanding debt. Parents with significant child support arrears may also be prevented from leaving the country.
Child Support FAQs
Q. At what age does child support end?
A. As the law is the same across Australia, the law in Queensland is the same as each other State. Child support legislation does not apply to children over 18 years of age (except in very special circumstances). When the child is over 18 years the Family Law Act provides scope for the Family Law Court (or Federal Circuit Court) to determine adult child maintenance. This kind of maintenance is usually only required if the children have an ongoing maintenance need, such as full-time tertiary study.
Q. Can child support amounts change?
A. Either parent can make a Change of Assessment application if their circumstances warrant a change in the amount of child support they either pay or receive.
Q. Does a parent need to pay child support if they live outside of Australia?
A. The Department of Human Services can arrange for parents who live overseas to pay child support. This can be a difficult process if the payer parent is not an Australian resident. The department will have to forward the child support assessment to the reciprocating jurisdiction, which may not recognise or enforce it.
Q. What if a payer parent refuses to pay child support?
A. Child support can be taken out of the payer parent’s salary and tax returns. If the payer parent still refuses to pay, the assessment can be enforced through court litigation.
Q. Is the payer parent required to contribute to private school fees?
A. The Agency formula does not take into account private school fees. Usually, parents agree to arrangements for private school fees, although it is possible for the Agency to make an order regarding payment of school fees when considering a child support departure application.
Speak With a Specialist
We can help you receive the best possible outcome in an assessment. For all your child support concerns, our experienced family lawyers are here to provide expert advice and advocacy. Contact our Brisbane office today.