If you have separated from your partner and have care of the children from that relationship, you are, in most circumstances, able to apply for financial assistance from the other parent to contribute to the costs of raising those children, in the form of child support obligations.
Child support stems from a fundamental principle that both parents have a responsibility to provide for their children. After separation, whether married or de facto, an agreement can be reached regarding the type and level of child support that is paid from one parent to the other to make sure that a child is supported financially by both parents. Child support is an ongoing payment that is purely for the financial support of a child from that relationship.
The area of child custody can be fairly complex, particularly if parents cannot come to an amicable agreement or there are extenuating circumstances that require the intervention of the Court. In our previous blog post, you can find out in more detail how to get child custody. Today, we’ve summarised the key things we think you need to be aware of when considering your child support obligations.
How long the obligation lasts
In Australia, child support obligations continue until a child turns eighteen years of age, or to the conclusion of Year 12 if the child turns eighteen during that year of schooling. However, in order for the obligation to continue to the end of Year 12 a specific application must be made. In some circumstances, the Court can order for a parent to financially support an adult child of the relationship.
There are certain circumstances in which the obligation can be stopped early, for example:
- If the child becomes self-sufficient
- If the child marries or enters into a marriage-like (de facto) relationship
- If the child is adopted
- If the child dies
On the other hand, child support can also be extended in circumstances where, for example:
- The child over 18 can’t support themselves because they are completing their secondary or tertiary education
- The child over 18 has a mental or physical disability
This is called adult child maintenance. If you would like to receive child maintenance for your adult child, or you have been asked to pay adult child maintenance, you should get legal advice.
How to calculate child support
The procedure for paying and receiving child support is governed by the Child Support (Assessment) Act 1989 (Cth) and the Child Support (Registration and Collection) Act 1988 (Cth).
The actual process of assessing the amount of child support can be quite complex, but in general terms it involves the use of an 8 step formula;
- work out each parent’s child support income
- work out the parents’ combined income
- work out each parent’s income percentage
- work out each parent’s percentage of care
- work out each parent’s cost percentage
- work out each parent’s child support percentage
- work out the costs of children
- work out the child support amount
In practical terms, the simplest way to work out your potential child support contribution or what you are likely to receive is to use the Department of Human Services Child Support Estimator. The estimator takes you through each step and provides a calculation based on your individual circumstances.
How to pay or receive child support
There are various ways in which you can organise and manage your child support payments. This will depend on your individual circumstances as well as how able you are to communicate with your ex-partner.
Child support can be paid:
- Through the Child Support Agency periodically
- Privately following an assessment
- Directly between the parents (self-managed)
If you and the other parent are not able to communicate effectively, it may be advisable to organise your child support payments though the Child Support Agency by opting for the ‘Child Support Collect’ method.
You are able to change to another arrangement at a later date if you find you need to, however the parent receiving the child support must agree to the change in payment method.
If either the payer or payee are living abroad, child support payments may still apply. If this is the case, you should seek legal advice.
How to document your child support agreement
If you are able to reach an agreement about the collection of child support privately or through mediation, it is crucial to document the agreement to have a written record of each parent’s obligations.
There are 2 types of agreements: limited and binding. We explain them briefly as follows.
- Limited child support agreements can be accepted if there is a child support assessment in place and the annual rate payable under the agreement is equal to, or more than, the annual rate of child support payable under the child support assessment. It is not essential to obtain legal advice for the agreement, however it is advisable to ensure that your interests are protected.
- Binding child support agreements can be made and accepted even if a child support assessment has not been made. The agreement can be made for any amount that all parties agree to, for periodic, non-periodic or even lump sum child support payments. Each party must obtain independent legal advice before entering into the agreement to be aware of the advantages and disadvantages of entering into such an agreement, among other things. A certificate signed by your lawyer will be attached to the agreement.
What happens if your child support matter goes to Court
There are limited circumstances where child support arrangements go to Court. Most child support disputes are handled outside of the Court. However, some examples where a case may go to court are:
- where the paternity of the child is in dispute;
- if you have property or parenting proceedings underway and you need to dispute an assessment which does not take into account a parent’s proper circumstances;
- if you are in proceedings for property or parenting matters and you want to halt any assessment process pending the outcome;
- to set aside or vary a child support agreement where the other parent won’t agree to stop or change the arrangements set out in the agreement.
Compiling the correct documentation, serving other parties and the ensuing evidence gathering and subsequent hearing can be complex. It is vital in these circumstances that you seek independent legal advice from a family law specialist.