A short legal guide to child support payments in Australia

There is a legal expectation in Australia that parents will financially maintain their children.

By Tylah Coskerie , Associate at Watts McCray, Sydney

How do child support payments start?

Child support does not automatically begin – one parent must apply to have child support collected, or the parents may come to a private agreement.

The most common child support arrangement is known as an ‘administrative assessment’, arranged and collected by the Department of Human Services (often referred to as the Child Support Agency).

What is a child support assessment?

A mother with two children who receives child support payments in Australia

An administrative assessment comes about when one parent applies to the Child Support Agency for an assessment (which is the amount of child support to be paid) and the Child Support Agency issues that assessment. Unless the Child Support Agency or a Court says otherwise, or the parents agree otherwise, that assessed amount must be paid.

The formula used by the Child Support Agency when working out the assessment, which intends to share the cost of raising the children between the parents, considers:
1. The amount of time each child lives with each parent;
2. Each parents’ income; and
3. The age of each child.

Child support assessment can change from time to time, depending on each of the above circumstances.

What is a private child support agreement?

Child support can also be agreed and documented privately between separated parents, however, legal advice should be obtained if this is intended.

These agreements are known as a Binding Child Support Agreement. A Binding Child Support Agreement, once signed, remains in place until the parents enter into a new Binding Child Support Agreement, or until a Court orders otherwise.

When and why would child support payments stop?

Child Support payments, whether pursuant to an assessment with the Child Support Agency or via a Binding Child Support Agreement, continue until a “terminating event” occurs.

Terminating events (per Section 12 of the Child Support (Assessment) Act 1989) include:
• The death of the child;
• The child ceases to be an eligible child, usually children who have been placed into care under child welfare law;
• The child turns 18, except when the child turns 18 during their final year of secondary school in which case the payments will continue until the last day of the secondary school year;
• The child is adopted;
• The child is married to another person, or in a de facto relationship with another person, and the child is over 16 years;
• The child is no longer an Australian citizen or no longer regularly resides in Australia, except when the child is living in a reciprocating jurisdiction.

What happens if I want to appeal a child support request from the Child Support Agency?

If you have a Binding Child Support Agreement, you will need to seek legal advice.

There are a number of steps that can be taken if you believe that you are entitled to your child support payments to end, or that the amount should change. This can only occur if your child support is pursuant to an assessment with the Child Support Agency.

The first step is to file an objection with the Child Support Agency.

When objecting, it is important to note that for an objection to be successfully filed it must be:
1. In writing;
2. From the person who is legally able to make an objection; &
3. Usually, lodged within 28 days of the parent being notified of the decision they wish to object to.

If the Child Support Agency upholds its initial decision, your next step is to appeal to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT). The AAT has the power to affirm the Agency’s assessment, vary the decision, remit the matter back to the Agency to change their assessment, or substitute the assessment with any assessment they see fit, with written reasons.

If you are unsuccessful at the AAT, then you can apply to the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia for orders.

Watts McCray Lawyers can provide you with advice and assistance at each stage of your child support journey. Should you have any queries about child support, or a child support dispute, contact Watts McCray Lawyers on (02) 9635 4266 for assistance.

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