The law says that both parents are responsible for financial support for their children. How much is paid depends on:
- the financial situation of each parent,
- the level of care each parent gives for the children,
- the ages of the children and whether either parent supports other children (not including step-children).
Non-parent carers of children (such as grandparents, or other carers) can also receive child support from the parents of the children.
The Department of Human Services (DHS) – Child Support (previously called the Child Support Agency) can be asked to collect and transfer periodic payments of child support, or the payments can be made by private arrangement between the parties.
Child support can only be claimed from a person who is a parent of a child. Dispute can happen about who is a biological parent of a child.
DNA parentage testing can be used to resolve disputes in some cases. There are also cases where a Court will “presume” that one party is a parent. You should get legal advice about this.
Child Support Assessment
Most child support assessments are calculated by DHS – Child Support following a formula. To make a proper assessment it is important that DHS Child Support has accurate information about:
- each parent’s taxable income,
- the amount of care each parent provides for the children, and
- whether either parent supports other children.
Alternatively, the amount of child support to be paid can be agreed to and set out in a Child Support Agreement which has been worked out between the parents.
The Parents Guide to Child Support can be downloaded in PDF for more information.
Child Support Formula
For more information about how the child support assessment is made see the DHS – Child Support website.
Change of care arrangements
DHS – Child Support should be informed of any changes in care arrangements as soon as possible. Disputes can arise about the level of care used in the assessment.
It is best to get legal advice about the circumstances in each case.
Can I change the amount of Child Support?
Yes. You can ask for a review of your Child Support Assessment or you can come to a new agreement with the other parent.
There are different ways to change a formula assessment through DHS – Child Support.
Estimate of Income
If a parent’s income is at least 15% lower than the income used in the assessment calculation, a parent can provide an up-to- date estimate of his or her income to the Department. An Estimate of Income affects future payments only. However, conditions apply and penalties can be added if a person significantly underestimates their income.
Changing your Assessment in Special Circumstances
Either parent can apply to change the assessment if they believe there are special reasons to change it.
An application to change an assessment must be based on particular grounds. The most common reasons for changing an assessment are about the incomes of the parents, private school fees, and costs connected to special needs of children.
Changes can be made to past or future assessments, but past changes can only go back 18 months before the application being made. If changes are needed, a court application can be made to go back more than 18 months, but less than 7 years.
Child Support Agreements
Parents can reach their own agreement about payment of child support without using the Department’s formula.
Child support agreements can include periodic payments, in-kind payments or lump sum payments, although only periodic payments can be collected by DHS – Child Support.
The use of intimidation or threats to get an agreement can make the agreement invalid or cancel it. Make sure you get legal advice before signing a child support agreement.
The law provides for two types of Child Support Agreements:
Limited Child Support Agreements
These agreements must be in writing, signed by both parties, and give at least as much child support as would be payable under a child support formula assessment. Limited Agreements can be ended by either party after 3 years (or sooner if certain things happen).
They can also be ended by agreement or set aside by court order.
Binding Child Support Agreements
These agreements can be for less than, or more than, the amount payable under a child support formula assessment.
Binding Child Support Agreements can also include lump sum payments, but special requirements apply:
- Each parent must get independent legal advice and
- The agreement must include certificates from the lawyers stating that advice has been given about the effect of the agreement on the rights of the individuals, and the advantages and disadvantages of entering the agreement.
Important: If a Binding Child Support Agreement gives less child support than what would be paid under a formula assessment, the amount of Family Tax Benefit (A) is paid at the rate payable under the formula assessment. (Not the amount given in the agreement).
This means that the Family Tax Benefit (A) will be paid as if the person was receiving more child support.
Binding Child Support Agreements can only be ended by a further Binding Child Support Agreement or, in exceptional cases, by a court order.
Adult Children (over 18 years)
A child support assessment can be extended to the end of the school year if the child is attending secondary school when they turn 18 years old. This request must be made to DHS– Child Support before the child turns 18. Otherwise there may be a reduction in the payment of Family Tax Benefit (A) for the child.
Adult Child Maintenance (over 18 years)
When the child support assessment ends, a court can order that maintenance continue to be paid for adult children if they are unable to fully support themselves because they are:
i) completing their education, or
ii) they have a disability.
You should get legal advice about this.
Call the Legal Aid Helpline on 1800 019 343
Collection and enforcement
DHS – Child Support can collect periodic payments of child support or maintenance payable under a child support assessment or a child support agreement.
Court orders for adult child maintenance or spousal maintenance can also be registered for collection by DHS – Child Support.
DHS – Child Support has wide powers to collect child support debts including collecting from wages, capturing tax refunds and collecting money from bank accounts.
If payments are not made on time and in full, late payment penalties can be charged.
Parties can also take action to recover an unpaid child support debt.
Parents can make their own private arrangements for the payment of child support if they can agree. However, private collection is only recommended in cases where the payer is likely to pay or has a good payment history. In cases with private collection arrangements, Centrelink will assume that the child support amount is being paid and received in full when calculating Family Tax Benefit (A) entitlements.
If the payment is collected by DHS – Child Support, a paying parent can ask for a credit for in-kind or cash payments made to a third party, or other payments that were made instead of child support payments. Many payments can only be credited if the receiving parent agrees that the payment was intended to be treated as a child support payment.
If the payee does not agree, there are some payments that can still be credited as child support. These include:
– some educational expenses,
– essential medical expenses,
– dental expenses, and
– payments for the payee’s accommodation or car expenses.
They are called Prescribed Non-Agency Payments and can only be credited if the case is collected by DHS – Child Support and the paying parent has less than regular care (14%) of the child(ren).
For more information about child support, level of care and the family tax benefit go to DHS- Child Support.