Many parents not living together can arrange for the financial support of their children without assistance. However, some parents have difficulty agreeing on what is fair.
If you cannot agree on how to share the financial support of your children, you can ask the Department of Human Services (Child Support) to register your case. DHS(CS) will then issue an assessment telling you the amount of child support that should be paid by parents, applying a standard formula. You can also ask DHS(CS) to collect your child support and enforce any non-payment of child support; however you do not have to, you can arrange for this privately.
Some parents receiving income tested government benefits must register their cases with DHS(CS); please check with Centrelink.
The formula that is used to calculate child support takes account of a number of factors, including:
- Parents’ incomes (generally based on their last taxable income)
- The number and ages of the children
- Where the children live
- Any other biological children living with a parent
You can go to the DHS(CS) website and calculate how much child support would be in your case here.
If you think the assessed rate of child support is not fair in your particular case, you can apply for a Change of Assessment. For example, you may have discovered that the other parent’s income has increased significantly since they lodged their last tax return, or a child in your care may have a special expense, such as requiring braces. This process requires you to fill in a form identifying the basis of your claim; there are 10 possible reasons for a change that you can rely on. If none of these Reasons applies to your case, DHS(CS) cannot change your assessment. All of the Reasons require that you show there is a special circumstance in your case; so normal circumstances (such as a new partner, a mortgage and other normal living expenses) will not justify a change. It is not enough to show you are struggling to manage financially. In this process, whether you are the applicant or the respondent, you must provide full and frank disclosure of your financial situation.
In the change of assessment process, decision makers have very considerable powers to obtain information; they can obtain information (without your consent) from banks, accountants, employers and others where they feel that there is further financial information that would assist them in making their decision.
Note that changes cannot be made by DHS(CS) for assessments that are more than 18 months old; only a court can change an assessment that is older than this. If you are unhappy with the outcome of the change of assessment process, there is an internal review process (called an objection) and after that if you are still not satisfied you can take the matter to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal to be considered. Ring 13 11 41 for more information on the change of assessment process.
If you do not ask DHS(CS) to collect your child support, then you will be responsible for ensuring it is paid. If DHS(CS) is collecting and paying the child support, then they will keep a record of what is owed and take steps to ensure the payment of the debt. If you are not paying your child support liability, there can be very significant consequences including substantial penalties and even a Departure Prohibition Order (a departmental order preventing you leaving the country until some arrangement is made about your child support debt).
Sometimes parents like to pay money directly towards bills. There is a process where you can have such payments credited against your child support liability. This is called a Non-Agency Payment credit. Credits can be automatic (for example, for payment of school fees paid on behalf of the other parent) or can be by agreement with the other parent. Call DHS(CS) for further details about these credits.
Sometimes a parent’s income decreases suddenly. If this is the case, rather than lodging a change of assessment application, you may be able to lodge an estimate of reduced income. This can be done over the phone, however, DHS(CS) will not backdate the estimate, so you need to do it quickly. Once you have lodged an estimate of reduced income, you are legally liable to advise DHS(CS) if your income changes. Contact DHS(CS) for more information about estimates.
You should note, however, that if the other parent feels the estimate of reduced income is not fair, they may challenge the estimate by lodging a change of assessment application. For example, if you were made redundant and received a large amount of money, and then lodged an estimate of low income on the basis that you had no further income after receiving the redundancy payment, the other parent may lodge a change of assessment application to have the redundancy payment taken into account in your future child support liability.
Parents can enter into child support agreements and register them with DHS(CS). There are two types of agreements – one is more permanent than the other. Contact DHS(CS) for further information about agreements.
Child support ends when a child turns 18, however, if the child is in their final year of secondary schooling, you can apply to have the child support assessment extended to the end of that school year.
You can seek child maintenance for children over 18 who are studying, or not physically or mentally able to work. This needs to be done in the Family Court of Western Australia. However, if you are still in the child support system in relation to an under 18 child, you can apply for a change of assessment on the basis that you are supporting an over 18 child (Reason 9). Likewise, if you have a child overseas who is not factored into the Australian assessment, you can apply under Reason 9 to have that child considered in the assessment of your child support.
Many decisions of DHS(CS), including a change of assessment decision, can be challenged by lodging an ‘objection’. Objection decisions can be challenged by applying to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal; visit the Tribunal’s website here. Generally speaking, you cannot start a child support dispute in court, however, you should seek legal advice on this matter if you wish to have your matter heard in court, particularly if you have another matter already being heard in court.