What is Child Support?
Child support is the payment of money by one parent to another parent or carer, or for the benefit of a child.
Once you and your ex have split, you probably need to come to some reasonably quick decisions about arrangements for funding your children’s expenses (schooling, medical, day-to-day living expenses and so on).
Either parent can apply for an assessment. However, it is worth doing the calculations first. You may expect to receive money, yet wind up actually owing money.
You can make a private agreement to replace the Child Support Agency (CSA) amount, or to have it paid by providing specific support such as school fees or medical expenses, rather than cash
The system is complex and you should contact the CSA to get the specific information you require to understand your entitlements or liabilities.
Child support is assessed by the CSA by applying a formula set down by law. An estimator of payments is available on the agency website.
To determine the actual amounts to be paid, the CSA applies a formula that takes into consideration financial circumstances and the time children spend with each parent. The formula is quite detailed and seeks to address concerns about the financial impact of the time children spend with each of their parents.
The key elements of the formula are:
- the costs of raising children
- the incomes of both parents (these are taken into account and considered equally), and
the amount of care each parent provides (the time a child spends with each parent).
An allowance is then made for the needs of each party for their own support.
The CSA then issues its administrative assessment setting out who pays how much to the other and a calculation is made showing the balance owing by one parent. This is the amount.
In many cases the CSA collects the money and distributes it, so that the former couple does not have to manage or control it themselves. However, it is possible to have a private payment arrangement where the money is transferred directly rather than through the CSA.
You can make a private agreement in certain circumstances. This replaces the ‘administrative assessment’.
Background to the system
The system was set up in 1989 and is covered by the Child Support Assessment Act and the Registration and Collection Act. The scheme is administered by the CSA.
The CSA is responsible for “… supporting separated parents to transfer payments for the benefit of their children.”
The system is designed to keep people out of the courts as much as possible. The CSA is highly effective at assessing parents’ liability to pay and administering the system to ensure that the support is paid.
The CSA has extremely authority to access records and tax returns, transfer funds, make assessments and make sure that the money that should be paid is paid. It also has authority to enforce collection, such as requiring an employer to deduct sums from the wages of a parent for payment to the other parent or intercepting tax refunds.
How the assessment works
When an application is accepted by the CSA, it advises each party of the assessment, setting out the amount and the calculations.
A child for whom support may be paid includes:
- an adopted child
- a child of a separated married couple, and
- a child born to an unmarried couple who lived together between 20 and 44 weeks prior to the birth.
Child support ends when a child turns 18. It may also end if the child becomes ‘a member of a couple’ or is adopted.
If you are unhappy with an assessment
Under limited circumstances, you can take an objection to the courts. First, you must lodge an objection with the Child Support Registrar for a change in the assessment. This objection must be lodged within 28 days of the assessment, although there is provision for objections out of time.
If the Registrar rejects your objection, you may apply to the Social Security Appeals Tribunal (SSAT) for a review. If you remain dissatisfied with the outcome, you can make a further appeal to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal.
However, this is not the appropriate route for objections on the basis of parentage. If your objection is based on your belief that the CSA has not assessed the true parents of the child, an application should be lodged with the Court either for a determination on the basis of the Family Law Act presumptions of paternity or to order DNA testing.
Keeping the CSA informed
The easiest way you can ensure your assessment is correct is to keep the CSA advised of any change in circumstances including:
- care arrangements for the children
- the number of dependent children for whom you might be responsible
- any change in your income, or
the occurrence of any event that may terminate the current arrangements.
For further information, you can visit the CSA website at www.csa.gov.au.