Child Support is the payment made by one parent to another to assist with the costs of raising children.
Child support is usually paid until children are eighteen years of age and can be agreed between parents or will be administered by the
Australian Government through what is commonly called the Child Support Agency.
What about the kids? Child support
Separated parents have a legal obligation to maintain their children. In Australia, the Department of Human Services manages the assessment and payment of child support by parents after separation. Previously this agency was known as the ‘Child Support Agency’ and you will often hear people continue to refer to it in that way. The Department of Human Services now includes a range of government agencies like Centrelink and Medicare as well as child support.
The payment of child support for all separated parents in Australia is initially determined through the application of the Child Support (Assessment) Act 1989 (Cth). This piece of legislation sets out a complicated formula for determining the amount of child support that should be paid by one parent to another to assist with the costs of raising their children after separation.
There tend to be three main ways couples resolve their child support matters:
Many separated parents have no formal arrangements in place for child support, and instead might agree on an amount that will be paid by one parent to the other or to each be responsible for particular expenses. Sometimes parents obtain an ‘assessment’ of child support from the Department of Human Services to use as a guide, but don’t require the assistance of the Department to collect or organise those payments. Often these parents have no involvement with the Department and simply make private arrangements.
After separation, either you or your partner can apply to the Department of Human Services for an assessment of child support. The Department can also ensure that those amounts are paid. Some families will opt for a ‘private collect’ arrangement, meaning one partner pays direct to the other while other families will opt for an ‘agency collect’ arrangement where the Department will collect payments on their behalf.
This is a formal contract between you and your spouse that details the terms of your child support arrangements. These agreements are often used by parents who wish to have child support arrangements that are different to those that might arise as a result of a child support assessment. For example, if your children are attending at private schools, have special talents or have special needs then often these expenses are not captured by the regular child support assessment. Child support agreements offer a lot of flexibility to parents who wish to tailor their child support arrangements to suit their families.
Child support is a very complicated and specialised legal area. To understand the complicated formula that is used to calculate a child support assessment seems to require a PHD in ‘fancy’ maths. To make life easier, there is a reasonably accurate child support calculator available on the Child Support section of the Department of Human Resources webpage (http://www.humanservices.gov.au/).
The formula takes into account a number of different factors, including the number of children in your family, their ages, your and your partner’s incomes and how much time the children spend between you. There are many other elements to the formula that are then balanced to determine the amount of child support to be paid on a weekly basis. Once this assessment has issued, there are limited avenues to challenge or review it and you should seek specific advice from a family lawyer or the Department if you consider the assessment is not accurately reflecting your family’s circumstances.
Keep in mind that a child support assessment will never cover all of the actual costs of children. It is important to also remember that when your children are in your care it is expected that you will be responsible for the costs associated with providing for them – clothing, food, activities and more. Just because you might be paying child support it does not mean that you then don’t otherwise still contribute to the costs of your children when they are in your care.