- All legal parents have a responsibility to provide for their child financially in Australia, regardless of gender or whether you and the other parent were married or not.
- Child support can be managed privately between parents or through Services Australia, which can help to create arrangements and collect payments.
- There is no explicit list of items of what child support is used for in Australia, rather, they are meant to contribute to the overall costs of raising a child.
- Parents can make a private agreement of the amount of child support paid or a child support assessment can help to determine the amount of child support.
- The child support payment amount will be based on the unique circumstances of your situation and will take factors like income, the child’s needs and the care they are receiving.
What you need to know about child support in Australia
When a relationship ends, more often than not, it’s not that easy to be able to immediately sever ties and go your separate ways. Especially if you have children.
When you have a child, you have the responsibility to ensure that the well-being and needs of that child are being met and that the decisions you and your former partner make are in the best interests of the child.
This includes the duty to ensure that you and your child’s other parent are financially maintaining your child. When a couple has separated, this financial responsibility is known as child support and is critical in ensuring that your child’s needs are being met.
Child support can be a contentious issue for some people and as there is more than one way to manage child support in Australia, it can be complicated to navigate.
In this guide, we’ve answered a variety of questions that our family lawyers are regularly asked about child support and parenting. Whether you’re thinking about separating or you’re already well and truly into the process, keep reading to find out what you need to know about child support in Australia.
What is child support?
Child support is a payment or payment arrangement that is made between separated parents to help share the costs of raising children. As we touched on above, a parent has the duty to financially support their child and when parents separate, child support payments are the method that allows both parents to financially contribute towards raising their child.
Is child support the same as child maintenance?
Child support and child maintenance are somewhat similar; however, child maintenance is the financial support for an adult child over the age of 18, and child support is the financial support of a child under 18.
Child maintenance is paid when there is a need for ongoing financial support, such as to help the child complete school or a health-related reason that requires ongoing care, such as a disability.
It’s also possible for adult child maintenance to be applied for if the child acquires a disability after they have turned 18.
Who pays child support?
The duty to provide financial support for raising a child is a responsibility of all legal parents in Australia and depending on the circumstances of your situation, it could mean that you will be required to pay child support or receive child support payments.
It doesn’t matter whether you were married to the other parent, in a de facto relationship, in a same-sex relationship or if you adopted the child, if you’re legally a parent to the child you have this financial duty.
What are child support payments meant to be used for?
There is no set list of expenses or rules about exactly what child support can or cannot be used for. Generally, the payments are seen as a contribution to help cover the total expenses of raising a child.
These expenses could include:
- Medical costs;
- School costs; and
- Activity-related costs.
Depending on the type of child support arrangement you have, you may be able to come to an agreement with the other parent about the various expenses of the child and how these will be paid.
What types of child support arrangements are there?
Child support arrangements can essentially be decided upon privately between the child’s parents or with the assistance of Services Australia, which is the governing body that is responsible for assessing and collecting child support.
A lot of factors can influence which option will be best for your situation. For example, if you and your child’s other parent have a good relationship and split amicably, then a private agreement may work best for you. However, if you and your former partner have a contentious relationship or simply cannot agree on how much a child support payment should be, then working with Services Australia and undergoing a child support assessment may be your best option. Learn more about each option below:
This type of child support arrangement is commonly known as “Self-managed Child Support” and is an informal option where the parents will need to decide the following together:
- How much to pay;
- When to pay; and
- How to pay.
Choosing to self-manage your child support can be a simple option for some parents, especially if they have a good relationship, and it does not require a child support assessment to take place. A child support assessment is essentially a review conducted by Services Australia that helps to determine how much child support is payable and to whom.
If you choose to self-manage your child support agreement this can be left as an informal agreement or can be made formal with a binding child support agreement. To apply for a binding child support agreement each party must receive independent legal advice. This is to ensure that you understand your responsibilities in the agreement. The legal professional can also help to draft the terms of the agreement for you.
Even if you and your child’s other parent can come to an informal agreement and choose to self-manage your child support, seeking legal advice is worthwhile for both parties as a family law professional can help you understand the legal ramifications of this option, as well as help you make sure that you understand all options available to you.
Child Support Assessment and Agreements
If you’re unable to agree with the other parent or you’re not sure how to do so, you can apply to Services Australia for a child support assessment. The assessment will provide you with details of how much child support needs to be paid and which parent is required to make the payments. Services Australia can also help to facilitate these payments by collecting and transferring the payments.
After the child support assessment, a child support agreement can be created which can be either a binding child support agreement or a limited child support agreement.
This type of agreement is a long-term option that is legally binding and allows the parents to agree after they have sought independent legal advice. The child support payment amount can be more, less, or equal to the amount that is payable according to the child support assessment.
This type of agreement can mean payments are collected privately or via child support collect, which is Service Australia’s program that collects and transfers child support payments for you. Binding child support agreements can only be ended if both parents can agree to make a new one or by going to court to do so.
A limited child support agreement does not require independent legal advice however, this type of agreement can only be made after a child support assessment has been conducted by Services Australia.
The child support payment amount must be agreed upon by both parents and be for at least the same amount of child support as the child support assessment outlined.
This type of agreement can be more easily ended than a binding child support assessment. Some of the ways it can be ended are if both parents agree to do so, if there are significant changes in the income of the parents, or if it has been more than 3 years since the agreement was made.
Even though legal advice is not required for a limited child support agreement, we highly recommend seeking it.
How much child support is payable?
Many factors can influence how much a child support payment in Australia will be. There are no set payment figures, rather the unique circumstances of your situation need to be considered before coming to a payment figure.
The parent’s income, the current expenses of the child, the care the child is receiving and their future needs all need to be considered before arriving at a payment figure. You can agree together to work out how much child support a parent will pay or if you’re looking for guidance, you can take the Services Australia child support payment formula into consideration.
When conducting a child support assessment, Services Australia uses a detailed formula to calculate how much child support may be required and to whom. A basic overview of the formula used to calculate child support payments is as follows:
Step 1: Each parent’s eligible child support income is worked out. This is the parent’s income minus their self-support amount.
Step 2: The results from the first step – each parent’s eligible child support income – is added together to see the combined child support income.
Step 3: The percentage of this income of each parent is calculated.
Step 4: The percentage of care that each parent provides is worked out. This is essentially the amount of time you spend with the child.
Step 5: The percentage of parents’ cost for the care of the child is calculated. To work this out, the Care and Cost table available on the Services Australia website is used. This table takes the amount of time that you spend with the child to work out the cost percentage for caring for that child.
Step 6: The child support percentage of each parent is calculated. This is worked out by subtracting the cost percentage worked out in step 5 from the income percentage income worked out in step 3. This step helps to determine which parent will receive child support and which one will pay. For example, if your current child support percentage is calculated as a negative percentage, you are the parent who will receive child support as your share of the costs for the child are more than the amount of care that you provide to the child. If you’re the parent with a positive child support percentage, this will mean that you’re the parent who will be paying child support.
Step 7: The costs of the child or children are to be calculated. Using the Costs of the Children table, also available on the Services Australia website, the costs of each child are determined. The table shows this based on the parent’s combined income. There are also different cost levels for the children based on their ages.
Step 8: The total child support amount is calculated. This is worked out by multiplying the positive child support percentage by the cost of the child (that was worked out using the Costs of the Children table).
Who works out how much child support is paid?
Working out child support payments can be done either by the parents themselves or with the assistance of a Services Australia child support assessment.
The avenue you choose is dependent on your situation. If you and the child’s other parent get along well or are at least amicable, you may be able to agree easily or at least with the assistance of a family mediation service or legal advice.
If you are unable to agree, do not have a great relationship or perhaps there was violence in the relationship, it may not be safe or possible to work together to come to an agreement, which is where a child support assessment may be the better option for you.
How is child support paid?
Child support can be paid in several ways. You can either choose to have Services Australia aid you in the collecting and transferring of child support payments or you can make private arrangements for the collection too.
It’s important to understand that there are risks when you rely on a private agreement for child support. Unless an agreement is formalised or you choose to manage it through Services Australia, it can be difficult to have the payments enforced – so if the other parent stops paying, it can leave you with few options.
Child support can also be paid periodically or non-periodically, or potentially a combination of both. A periodic payment is a regular payment (this could be weekly, fortnightly, monthly, or another agreed-upon interval) of an amount that has been agreed upon. A non-periodic payment is a payment for expenses related to the child such as school uniforms, fees, medical costs, and education-related expenses.
How do I apply for child support?
Child support can either be applied for through Services Australia or arranged privately between the parents.
To apply for child support, you must be an eligible person – either a legal parent or non-parent carer of the child – and you can apply for a child support assessment via the Services Australia website.
This is the first step in the application and will require you to provide a variety of different details, including information about you, your income, the other parent, your relationship and the child. If you’re concerned about the risks asking for child support may pose for you or your family, you can also contact Services Australia to discuss your situation or seek legal advice from a lawyer to understand your options.
If you’re able to agree with your child’s other parent, then you may not need to make any applications for child support, though we still recommend seeking legal advice.
Who can apply for child support in Australia?
As we touched on above only an eligible person can apply for child support payments. An eligible person is either a legal parent or a non-parent carer.
A parent will need to prove that they are the legal parent of the child, and this may mean providing proof such as a court declaration, your name being on your child’s birth certificate, your name being on your child’s adoption papers, or a statutory declaration.
In certain circumstances, a non-parent carer may be able to apply for child support. A non-parent carer could be a grandparent, legal guardian or another family member.
To be able to apply as a non-parent carer, you will need to provide information such as:
- Proof that you’re related to the child (if a blood relative);
- Details about how long the child spends in your care;
- Whether you share care with either of the child’s parents;
- Your relationship with either parent;
Before applying for child support, either as a parent or a non-parent carer, you can speak to a family lawyer. They can advise you of your options and eligibility.
When does child support end?
For child support payments to end, one of the following must take place:
- The child dies;
- The provider of the maintenance dies;
- The child marries or enters into a de facto relationship;
- The child is adopted; or
- The child turns 18 and there are no additional orders in place and the child is not dependent on their parents anymore.
It is common for child support payments to end when a child turns 18 and enters adulthood. However, if the child turns 18 during the school year, then child support payments may still be required until they have finished the school year.
The requirement of child support may still be in place after the child has turned 18 if the child has significant health or medical needs that may require ongoing support.
Can a child support payment be changed or reduced?
The amount of your child support payments could change for several different reasons.
For example, if your income or the income of the other parent changes, this could affect the value of the child support payment.
It’s important to be aware that a loss of income doesn’t necessarily absolve you of your responsibilities when it comes to child support. If you have a private agreement, you can discuss your financial circumstances with the other parent to agree, such as reduced support or a pause of support until your employment and income change. If your child support arrangement is through Services Australia, you will need to notify them of this loss of income, which may result in a new child support assessment and payment amount.
If you have another child with someone else, this could impact the amount of child support you are required to pay, as the new child may be a dependent of yours.
If you and the other parent get back together, this too could affect child support payments and if your child support arrangement has been organised through Service Australia, you will need to notify them of this change (as well as other significant changes, including those we’ve mentioned today).
In circumstances where you and the other parent agree, you may be able to apply to update an agreement to change the amount of child support payments.
Do child support payments affect my eligibility for other types of payments?
Child support and various other payments, including government and Centrelink benefits, could have an impact on one another. In many cases, they can be related.
When it comes to government support, your Family Tax Benefit (FTB) can be affected by your child support payments. You can learn more about the impact here.
There are also other payments and settlements to think about when it comes to child support. If you’ve separated from your spouse or de facto partner and have received a property settlement, while they are separate legal functions, the property settlement outcome could influence the amount of or eligibility for, child support payments.
Another potential payment after the breakdown of a marriage or a de facto relationship is spousal maintenance. Spousal maintenance is different to child support – to be eligible for spousal maintenance you do not need to have had a child, however, if you do have a child, depending on your circumstances, you may be eligible for both spousal maintenance and child support.
This is another reason why seeking legal advice in these sorts of matters is important. You want to ensure that you’re receiving everything you’re entitled to as well as avoiding any potential issues.
Does having a new partner affect my child support payments?
In most cases, no. If either parent remarries, it is unlikely that child support payments will change. Child support payments are based on the incomes of the children’s legal parents and the income and assets of the new spouse are not relevant to this.
If you remarry and your new spouse requires your support, it is possible that this could impact your child support assessment, however, this usually only happens in very special circumstances.
As we touched on above, if you have a child with the new spouse or you legally adopt a child of theirs, this could impact your child support assessment too.
What if the other parent won’t pay child support?
If you’re the receiver of child support and the other parent stops paying child support, the type of agreement you have could impact your ability to recover these payments.
If you have a private and informal agreement, Services Australia is not able to help you enforce these payments and it’s best to seek legal advice to understand your options. Depending on your circumstances there may be other ways to receive support.
When you have had a child support assessment through Services Australia and your child support agreement is registered with them, if the other parent stops paying, they can enforce collection of child support payments in a variety of ways. This includes whether they have been facilitating payments on your behalf or if you’ve been managing the payment process privately. If you’ve been managing it privately, you can ask them to help you to recover payments. If they have been collecting and transferring payments for you, then they can arrange to commence salary deductions from the parent required to pay or if debt accrues from unmade payments, they can also take the parent to court to have the payments enforced.
Can you back-claim child support?
In circumstances where the parent who pays child support has stopped or reduced their payments, if the arrangement is registered with Services Australia, then they may be able to help to recover these funds. Usually, they can only recover the overdue payments up to the previous three months, though, in exceptional circumstances, they may be able to recover payments from the last nine months.
If you become aware of information that could impact your child support assessment – which is used to determine the amount of your child support payment – it is possible to have the assessment amended. This may be able to be amended for the previous 18 months. It’s also possible to apply for a court order to amend the assessment and the assessment could be backdated up to seven years, though this happens rarely.
Is it possible to legally avoid paying child support?
If you’re looking for a legal loophole to get out of paying child support, it’s important to remember that as a parent you have a duty to provide financial support for your child and it is unethical to avoid providing this support.
However, if you’re concerned with paying a fair and equitable amount of child support there are some steps you can take to ensure that this is the case.
For instance, if you and the other parent can work together you may be able to come to an agreement that works best for you both and provides your child with the financial resources they need and deserve. These agreements can be informal or made formal through a limited child support agreement or a binding child support agreement. Each agreement has pros and cons.
Another consideration to make is understanding how the child support calculation works. The main factors that influence the payment are the income of each parent, the number of dependent children a parent has, and the direct care that each parent is providing to the child in question. If you and the other parent are each spending the same amount of time with your child, then each parent is seen to have an equal share of the costs associated with raising the child. However, if one parent does earn more money than the other, then it is likely that the parent earning more money may have to provide a level of support to the other parent and child.
If you’re concerned about whether your child support payments are fair, we highly suggest talking to a family lawyer. They can help you understand your situation and legal obligations.
What if I don’t think I’m the parent of the child?
A person who believes they may be the father of a child or a person aiming to prove that someone is the parent of a child may be able to apply for this court order.
Strong evidence will need to be presented to support your application and it’s best to seek legal advice and work with a family lawyer before doing anything.
Court-ordered paternity tests are most commonly ordered in situations where people are trying to prove paternity to settle parenting matters, like obtaining child support payments or denying child support obligations.
When should I talk to a lawyer?
Whether you’re having an issue with your current child support arrangements or you’re planning to separate from your child’s other parent shortly, a family lawyer experienced in parenting and child matters can make the world of difference for your situation.
A family lawyer can help you with various applications, understand the benefits and limitations of your options, as well as ensure that you fully understand all of your legal obligations and options. Family law and child support in particular are not simple. Many factors can influence the outcome of your situation.
How Unified Lawyers can help you with child support in Australia
If you’re looking for support during negotiations with your ex-partner about child support arrangements or you’re just looking to understand your options, here at Unified Lawyers we’re here to help. Our team specialises in family law and is highly experienced in parenting matters, including child support disputes. Our services are available Australia-wide, and with family law offices in Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney, it couldn’t be easier to work with an experienced family lawyer.
Book your free consultation using the button below or by calling us on 1300 667 461.