Helpful Guide to Getting Child Support in Australia

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Frances is an experienced family lawyer with a strong passion for family law. Since her admission as a solicitor of the Supreme Court of NSW, Frances has always focussed in...

A guide to child support in New South Wales

If you have children from a previous relationship, you may be required to pay or receive child support. It will depend on the level of care that you have for the child.

This guide explains everything there is to know about child support in New South Wales.

If you would like personalised legal advice, you may contact our family lawyers on 1300 667 461.

What is the child support scheme in Australia?

The child support scheme, which was established in 1988 through the Child Support (Registration and Collection) Act 1988 (Cth) and the Child Support (Assessment) 1989 Act (Cth), is managed by the Department of Human Services (Services Australia), which is a Federal Government agency.

The child support scheme ensures that children are supported by both of their parents, even if the parents are no longer in a relationship with each other.

As a parent, you will need to pay child support regardless of whether you have primary or non-primary care of the child. The amount you will pay depends on the level of care you have for your child.

cartoon of mother filling it form for child support in Australia

How do I pay child support?

You can either make your own arrangements to pay child support, or you can make the payments through the Child Support Agency.

If you choose to have child support calculated by the child support agency, they will conduct an assessment, which is based on the income of both parents, and the percentage of care that you each have for the child

What if the other parent is not paying?

If you are a primary carer of a child under the age of 18, and the other parent is not meeting their child support obligations, you may:

  1. Apply to the court for a departure order. You can only apply for this in certain circumstances, for example, if there is a risk that the other parent will abscond to another country.
  2. Call the child support enquiry line. They can recover overdue child support payments through various methods. These include income support payment deductions, enforcing tax return lodgement or withholding tax refunds through the ATO, wage or bank account deductions, issuing a travel ban (through departure prohibition orders), litigation, or in certain cases, prosecution.

Who pays child support?

Both parents have a responsibility to financially support their children until the child turns 18. That legal obligation does not change when one, or both partners enter a new de facto relationship or remarry.

Who is eligible for child support?

You are eligible for a child support assessment if you meet the residence rules and the following criteria:

  • you were married to the other parent when your child was born;
  • you are named on the birth certificate as a parent;
  • you’re named in adoption papers as a parent;
  • you are male and lived with the child’s mother anytime between 20 and 24 weeks before the child’s birth
  • you are identified as a parent by a relevant court;
  • you are a parent under the Family Law Act 1975 (Cth) – this includes artificial conception and surrogacy.

You are also considered a legal parent if you make a statutory declaration stating that you are the child’s parent, or if the other parent makes a statutory declaration saying you are a parent:

  • made by you stating that you are the child’s parent;
  • made by the other parent naming you as a parent on the birth certificate;
  • made by a non-parent carer saying that you are named on the birth certificate.

You may also be eligible for a child support assessment if you are a non-parent carer who cares for the child at least 128 days of the year.

Children are typically eligible for child support until they turn 18, however, this may be extended to the end of the school year. It may also be extended in cases where the child lives with a disability requiring ongoing care.

How is child support calculated?

In circumstances where you and the other parent cannot reach a mutual agreement on the financial responsibilities for your child, the child support agency will calculate the child support rate using the below 8 step formula:

  1. work out each parent’s child support income minus an amount they need to support themselves
  2. work out the parents’ combined income
  3. work out each parent’s income percentage
  4. work out each parent’s percentage of care
  5. work out each parent’s cost percentage
  6. work out each parent’s child support percentage
  7. work out the costs of children
  8. work out the child support amount

If your child support percentage is positive, then you may need to pay child support to the other parent.

What is level of care?

There are different levels of care when it comes to assessing the rate of child support that a parent needs to pay. The levels of care refer to the amount of time that you or the other parent cares for the child.

  • below regular care is 0-13%
  • regular care is 14-34%
  • shared care is 35-65%
  • primary care is 65-86%
  • more than primary care is over 86% care

A parent who provides primary care is not required to pay child support because the other parent is not considered to be an eligible carer of the child.

What if the care arrangements change?

If your care arrangements change then you will need to notify the Department of Human Services (now known as Services Australia) within 28 days of the change so that your child support assessment can be reviewed.

What if my child support is too high?

If your child support is too high, then under the child support legislation, you may apply to the registrar for a change of assessment.

You can also ask for a change of assessment yourself if your income, or the income of the other parent changes by at least 15% of what was in the initial assessment. You must also declare any additional income to ensure that you are paying the correct child support rate.

If you still disagree with their decision then you can apply to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT). You need to do this within 28 days of the decision.

How are child support payments made?

After divorce or separation, Australians who need to pay child support have a couple of options as to how they make the payments to the other parent.

The first option is self-management, where you simply deposit the periodic payments into the bank account of the parent who has primary care of your child. 

If you choose the private collection option, we strongly recommend that you keep accurate records so that if there are any disputes later on you have documentary evidence to fall back on. 

Choosing the self-management option will also affect your Family Tax Benefit (FTB) rate.

The other option is to get a child support assessment, which will determine the child support rate that the payer needs to contribute until the child turns 18. After you’ve had a child support assessment you can choose to enter into a limited child support agreement or a binding child support agreement.

Can I refuse to pay child support?

No. If you are the parent of a child, you have an obligation to meet their ongoing costs. There are ways that you can reduce the rate of child support that you pay.

You can spend more time with your children. The level of care you have for your children affects your child support amount. If you have a higher level of care then the assessed rate may be reduced.

The Family Law Act 1975 (Cth) states that child support can either be paid through periodic payments or lump-sum payments such as the settlement of property. If you transfer property to your ex, this will reduce the rate of child support that you pay.

If your income drops, then you should notify Services Australia. They will conduct a new assessment to determine the correct child support rate, which may reduce the amount you need to pay.

Graphic of single mum receiving child support

Do I have to pay child support if I have experienced family violence?

There are rare circumstances where you may be granted an exemption from paying child support. The Australian Law Reform Commission states that Child Support Australia may consider two reasons as being sufficient grounds for granting an exemption:

  1. Violence or fear of family violence
  2. Harmful or disruptive effect on the payee or payer (this includes rape or incest)

Centrelink also has the authority to consider an exemption and may refer a person who has requested an exemption to a Centrelink social worker or an indigenous service officer.

You can also request an exemption to end an existing child support assessment.

If Centrelink grants an exemption then it is subject to review at 12-month intervals.

If you have not been granted an exemption from paying child support, then the child support agency can take reasonable action to recover the funds. These actions may include court proceedings in the Family Court of Australia. They may also redirect any tax refunds, or garnishee your wages.

What is the minimum child support payment in Australia?

Services Australia lists the minimum child support payment rate in Australia on their website. This rate applies to people who:

  • have a low taxable income for the most recent relevant year
  • didn’t receive an income support payment in the last year
  • don’t have shared care of the child

If your income is below the minimum rate you can apply for a reduction of payments to zero.

The Department of Social Services (DSS – now known as the Department of Human Services) has a calculator on their website so you can estimate the child support rate you will need to pay.

What if I have questions about the child’s paternity?

If you do not think you are the father of the child that you are paying child support for, then you can take legal action to rectify the issue. We can assist you with this, so call us today on 1300 667 461 for a Free Consultation.

Generally, Services Australia will be satisfied that you are the father if:

  • your name is on the child’s birth certificate
  • you made a statutory declaration that you are the child’s father
  • you were married to the mother at the time the child was born
  • you lived with the mother at the time the child was conceived
  • you adopted the child
  • a court order has been made stating that you are the father of the child

To obtain proof that you are not the parent of a child, you will need to file an application in Family Court. This application must be lodged within 56 days of receiving notice in relation to child support matters.

The court may also order DNA testing to determine if you are a parent.

What does child support pay for in Australia?

In Australia, child support is used to cover the costs of expenses such as clothing, medical care, school fees, and any other childcare costs. In limited cases, it may also cover the cost of tertiary education.

Adult child maintenance may continue beyond the time the child turns 18 if they have a disability or additional needs where they are unable to completely support themselves.

Does a new partner affect child support?

Living with a new partner does not affect the child support rate that you receive or pay.

It is based on the income of both parents of the child and the level of care each parent has for the child.

If you are the partner of someone with a child from a previous relationship you do not have a responsibility to pay child support for them either unless you are listed on the child’s birth certificate or you have adopted them.

If you would like more information about your responsibilities, give our family lawyers a call on 1300 667 461.

How do I apply for child support?

You can easily apply for child support by following these steps:

  1. Go to the Services Australia website.
  2. Check if you’re eligible for child support.
  3. Apply for a child support assessment. If your child is eligible then the Registrar can make an administrative assessment of child support.
  4. Wait for the outcome of your application.

If you are in a situation where paying child support could put you in danger due to family violence, talk to a social worker at a Centrelink service centre.

In situations where you are in danger of physical harm, our family lawyers can also help you apply for an ADVO which will prevent your ex-spouse from contacting you.

How do I contact Child Support Australia?

Child Support Australia is available Monday to Friday from 8:30 am until 4:45 pm on 131 272 or 1800 241 272.

For more information, you can access their website directly.

How can Unified Lawyers help?

Unified Lawyers is one of Sydney’s top-rated family law firms. Our lawyers are known for going above and beyond for all our family law clients.

We will do whatever we can to help you through the process whether that’s helping you fill out the child support forms or giving you advice on how to challenge a child support assessment.

We are here for you on 1300 667 461.

Frances is an experienced family lawyer with a strong passion for family law.

Since her admission as a solicitor of the Supreme Court of NSW, Frances has always focussed in the field of family and divorce law.
Frances has worked in both suburban and city firms and she is able to connect with a range of client’s and adapt to their needs based on their varying situations.