Child support is the payment of money by one parent to another parent or carer, for the benefit of a child.
The child support system is complex and the best advice we can give you is to contact the Child Support Agency (directly or through its website) to get the specific information you require to understand your entitlements or liabilities.
Either parent can apply for a Child Support Assessment. However, it is worth doing the calculations first. You may expect to receive money yet wind up actually owing money.
An estimator of child support payments is available on the Department of Human Services website. Simply enter details of your income, your partner’s income and how much time you each spend with the children and it will estimate how much you will owe or receive.
Once an application is lodged, child support payments are assessed by the Child Support Agency. This is done by applying a formula set down by law.
The key elements of the formula are:
An allowance is then made for the needs of each party for their own support.
The Child Support Agency issues its administrative assessment setting out who pays what amount to the other and a calculation is made showing the balance owing by one parent to the other. This is the child support amount.
In most cases, the Child Support Agency collects the money and distributes it, so that the former couple does not have to manage or control it themselves. However, it is possible to have a private payment arrangement where the money is transferred directly rather than through the Child Support Agency.
Under limited circumstances, you can make an objection/appeal regarding child support. There is an internal review process followed by tribunal and court options. This can be complicated and it’s best to get advice before lodging an objection.
The easiest way you can ensure your assessment is correct is to keep Child Support advised of any change in circumstances including things like:
There is no strict requirement to make a formal child support application and some people will choose to have informal agreements – especially where things remain amicable following separation.
‘Private agreements’ can also be more formal and replace the child support administrative assessment’. These are known as Child Support Agreements.
There are two types of Child Support agreements:
Limited Agreements - agreements that are in writing and signed by both parents.
Binding Agreements - which are different from Limited Agreements in the following way:
With Limited Agreements, while there is no requirement for parties to obtain legal advice, we recommend that you do. Limited Agreements can be in place for a number of years and if you make an unfair agreement and only realise this later, you may be stuck with it for longer than you want.
Child support ends when a child turns 18 unless they are still completing their final year of high school.
There are some limited situations in which child support may be payable after a child has turned 18. Examples include where the adult child has a disability, special needs or other health issues that prevent them from being able to support themselves. This is called adult child maintenance and is not assessed by the Child Support Agency but is ordered under the Family Law Courts.
If you find yourself in this position you should consult an experienced family lawyer to get information and advice about your entitlements or responsibilities.