Child support is a term used to describe the payment of money from one parent to the other for the purpose of helping the parent raise their children who are under 18 years of age. All children in Australia whose parents have separated, whether or not the parents were married to each other, are eligible for child support payments. A child is defined as under 18 years of age.
What is child support?
Child support is designed to help cover the expenses involved with raising children, such as food, clothing, medical costs, housing, school costs and costs related to other activities. There are no regulations about what child support payments can and cannot be used for.
Depending on the circumstances, it is unlikely that child support payments will cover all the expenses associated with raising children. When child support is managed by the Department of Human Services (DHS), the department carries out a child support assessment to determine how much should be paid and who should pay child support to whom.
This is based on both parents’ incomes and on their percentage of care, which means how often in a year they look after the child. If a person has more than one child, their child support payments may be different for each child. In special circumstances, the DHS’s child support assessment can be changed. An example of this is if a child has large medical expenses.
The child support recipient can apply for a change to their assessment to adjust how much is paid.
Parents also have the option to self-manage child support.
This means that instead of a child support assessment from the DHS, the parties decide between themselves who will pay, how much will be paid, how often this will be done and by what method.
Instead of being a cash payment, child support can be paid in non-cash items, such as school fees, school uniforms, specific extra-curricular activities, insurance or medical expenses. Although there are no fixed rules about how child support money is to be used, the purpose of child support is to financially support the children.
Parents receiving child support are to use it for their children and not as personal financial support for themselves.
A child who is married or enters into a de facto relationship is not eligible for child support.
If there is no international maintenance agreement applicable, a child who is no longer in ordinarily in Australia or an Australian citizen is also not eligible for child support payments.
Child Support Agency
The Child Support Agency (CSA) is run by the Federal Government and they govern the bulk of Australia’s child support agreements. They have a special formula that they use to work out how much each parent should be contributing to their child by considering the income of the parents, the cost of raising a child, and how much time you spend with your child.
Some parents may think that the amount calculated by the CSA is too little and they won’t be able to look after their children. Some parents may think that they are paying too much child support and it’s an unfair burden on them. If you disagree with the amount that CSA has come up with, you can dispute it.
Some families choose not to involve the Child Support Australia and try and negotiate child support payments between each other. We recommend that such agreements are recorded in writing to avoid miscommunication or disputes in the future.
With a private agreement, as long as both parties are happy with the terms of payment, you can come to any compromise on the amount of payment, frequency, and method of payment.
What Is Child Maintenance?
Child Maintenance is financial support for dependent children over 18 years of age. Adult Child Maintenance is payable is a child (over 18) is studying (including secondary and tertiary education such as a university or an apprenticeship), has a physical or mental disability, or suffers from a serious illness.
A Child Maintenance Application must be made before the Child in question turns 18 years old. The Application can be brought by the parent of the Child or the Child.
Lodging a Child Support Application
An Application is made to the Department of Human Services. There are formal requirements for an application to be satisfied. The easiest procedure is applying online.
Before filling in the Online Application Form, there are preliminary steps to be taken. These include checking if you’re eligible for Child Support Payments from the other parent, avenues to seek help if asking for Child Support will expose you to risk, and setting up a self-service page with the Department. The relevant website is:
After the preliminary measure, the Online Application must be filled out.
The Online Application can be found at:
After completing the Online Application, you must submit your form along with any documents as required under the Form. Documents can be submitted through your Child Support online account. You can withdraw the Application as necessary, if the Department of Human Services has not yet accepted or refused the Application, through a Notice of Withdrawal of Application for a Child Support Australia Assessment Form.
If for any reason, you cannot apply for Child Support Australia online, you can apply by calling the number 131 272 on Mondays-Fridays from 8:30 am to 4:45 pm. You can also call this number regarding general enquiries about Child Support, including a change in circumstances.
After receiving the Application, the Department of Human Services will contact both parents regarding the decision. If a Child Support administrative assessment is made, a child support assessment notice will be sent out, which details:
Changing Child Support
If you are a parent of the child then under the law, both parents must support their children financially. Often people ask the question,
“If I didn’t plan to have the baby, do I need to pay child support?”
“I don’t want to have this baby, why should I have to pay child support?”
As a parent, you are required by law to support your children regardless of whether you were involved in the decision to keep the child or not. It doesn’t matter if the child was planned or if you were in a long-term or one night stand relationship.
If the baby is biologically yours, you must financially support it.
If you are unhappy with a decision made by the Child Support Agency, some avenues allow you to challenge them and have a new decision made in your favor.
The Department of Human Services allows for several procedures to challenge their decisions.
This includes an internal review process, or a right to apply to the Social Security Appeals Tribunal for a review of the decision.
Depending on the circumstance, you may even be able to apply to a court.
The options vary depending on your unique circumstances. A lawyer will be able to advise you as to what would be an appropriate action.
If you are unhappy with your private Child Support Agreement, you are always able to renegotiate something with your ex-partner and potentially come to a compromise.
Our experienced negotiators can help you get the results you want whilst ensuring your rights are protected.
There are only a few circumstances in which it is legal for Child Support Payments to stop being made. One of the most common circumstances is after the child’s 18th birthday.
However, if the child turns 18 during their last school year, you are liable for Child Support Payments until the end of that school year.
There are also some circumstances, such as a child with intellectual or physical disabilities, in which Child Support payments will be extended past the child’s 18th birthday.
This is called Child Maintenance.
Other circumstances in which Child Support Payments will cease include if the child:
- Gets married or enters into a de facto relationship
- Becomes adopted by other persons(s) or
- Is no longer present or ordinarily in Australia or an Australian citizen, provided there is no international maintenance agreement applicable
- If either parent dies
- If the parents reconcile and are partners for at least 6 months
- If neither parent is caring for the child
- If the parent liable for Child Support moves to another country that is not included in an International Child Support Agreement with Australia
How is child support calculated in Australia?
Parents are responsible for the financial support of their child or children. This is the case for birth parents, adoptive parents and people who have become parents as a result of artificial conception.
Financial responsibility for a child does not change in the event that the parents separate or divorce, where the child lives, the amount of time they spend with one parent or the remarriage of one or both parents.
In Australia, a parent must also be a resident of Australia under the Income Tax Assessment Act, or a resident in a prescribed overseas jurisdiction.
The payments are most commonly calculated as regular periodic instalments. However, lump sum payments, payment through specific expenses and payment in the form of a transfer or settlement of property is not unheard of.
The Formula is based on the income available to a parent. This adjusted taxable income minuses the cost of ‘self support’ and the number of other dependent children the parent is liable to support, to calculate the Child Support Payable for a particular child.
A breakdown of the Basic Formula is available from the Department of Human Services.
You may want to access the site to use their child support calculator Australia.
The Formula, in calculating the Child Support Payable, will take into account the time that the child spends with each parent. The Department of Human Services also bases the Basic Formula on research into the costs of raising children to determine the exact amount payable for a particular dependent Child.
There may be circumstances in which the calculation is unfair to one parent. This can occur if a parent has arranged to minimise their taxable income, a parent has lost their job since an assessment was made, or a child has special needs or attends a more costly private institution.
In circumstances such as this, it is possible to apply to the Child Support Agency to change the assessment. The Department of Human Services will consider the unique circumstances before amending any calculations.
SPEAK TO ONE OF OUR LAWYERS.
Principal of Justice Family Lawyers, Hayder specialises in complex parenting and property family law matters. He is based in Sydney and holds a Bachelor of Law and Bachelor of Communications from UTS.