Your full guide to child support in Australia

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Child support. You might have heard of it, but do you know what it actually is and what it covers? If you aren’t sure of these things don’t worry! In our latest Romer Maud Family Lawyers blog, our Associate Family Lawyer Emina Hidic discusses all things child support, how it is determined and what to be aware of when navigating it. Read on.

Your full guide to child support in Australia

What is child support?

When parents are separated, the financial reality of raising children can be drastically different to that of a two-parent family. As a result, there are options available to make sure that the children involved are provided for. One of those options is child support.

Child support is the process of working out the financial contribution that each parent should make to the maintenance of the child, up until the time that the child turns 18 years of age, or completes high school.

In Australia, there are no set rules as to what child support covers. Generally, the amount may be used to cover expenses involved with raising the child such as food, clothing, housing, medical and school costs, and other activity-related costs.

What are some misconceptions around child support?

Often when working with clients, we see a lot of misconceptions about the role of child support. With this in mind, let’s debunk some very out-of-date myths to help you understand more about what the child support process actually involves.

Some believe that parents who do not spend time with their children are not obligated to pay child support.

The truth here is the Family Law Act 1975 (Cth) states that financial support of the children is a consideration as to what is in their best interests. As a result, a parent may have to pay child support even if they do not see their kids.

Another myth is that parents who have equal care of the children do not have to pay child support, or that parents who receive the Family Tax Benefit do not need to apply for child support.

In reality, there are different requirements for the payment of child support. If you’re in Victoria, parents who have shared care may need to pay child support depending on their incomes.

As for the Family Tax Benefit, parents who are in receipt of Family Tax Benefit Part A, must apply for child support. This is due to the law saying that parents have the primary responsibility to financially support their children.

A parent with primary care of the child has 13 weeks to apply for child support from the time that the parents separate, or from the date of birth of the child.

If the parent does not apply for child support, their Family Tax Benefit may be reduced or stopped. The more child support that a parent receives, the less Family Tax Benefit Part A they will receive.

How child support is calculated

In Australia, child support can be calculated in two ways:

  1. By the Child Support Agency
  2. Or by private agreement negotiated by the parents

 

The Child Support Agency

In situations where there might be hostility between parents of allegations of family violence, parents can request that the Child Support Agency collect child support payments on their behalf.

The Child Support Agency uses a strict formula to determine how much each parent should pay in child support. It considers the parent’s income, the age of the children, and the amount of time that they spend with each parent. That process is known as a Child Support Assessment.

A Child Support Assessment can change from time to time, depending on the parents’ income, and the level of care that each parent has for the children. A parent can approach the Child Support Agency seeking a reassessment based on a change in circumstances.

There are some payments arising from the maintenance of children that are not automatically counted as child support by the Child Support Agency. These are called “non-agency” payments, and can include:

  • Childcare costs;
  • Kindergarten or school fees;
  • School uniform and book fees;
  • Essential medical and dental items;
  • The receiving parent’s share of rent, security bond or mortgage payments;
  • The receiving parent’s share of home utilities, rates or owner corporation charges; and
  • Purchase and maintenance of the receiving parent’s motor vehicle.

 

If both parents agree that the above non-agency payments were intended to be child support, then the Child Support Agency can credit the payer at the rate of 30% of the assessed child support each payment period if the balance of the child support is paid on time.

If the parents do not agree, then the Child Support Agency can only credit the amount if it falls under a special type of non-agency payment and – at the time the payment was made – the payer had less than 14% care of the children.

Private Agreements

Another option for parents who can otherwise agree, is to enter into a Binding or Limited Child Support Agreement, which has been negotiated between them.

The parents can decide what kind of child support is going to be paid, by whom, and how it should be paid. These agreements tend to be more flexible than assessments done by the Child Support Agency and can capture proposals that would not otherwise be accounted for. For example, parents might agree that one of them pay for a child’s braces as a form of child support.

A Binding Child Support Agreement is intended to provide certainty and finality on the issue of child support. The agreement is much harder to be terminated, and will continue to be binding even if a parent has a change of income, loss of employment, suffers from a change in income-earning capacity or bankruptcy.

A Binding Child Support Agreement can nominate any amount to be paid, and can deal with issues such as payment of private health insurance and school fees. Independent legal advice is a requirement upon entering a Binding Child Support Agreement.

A Limited Child Support Agreement is an agreement that can be in place for a period of up to three years. It can be extended by the parents, or terminated. A Limited Child Support Agreement requires parents to have a Child Support Assessment in place. The agreement must provide for an equal or greater amount of child support to be paid than what was assessed. It does not require independent legal advice prior to entering.

Note: Private agreements between parents must be drafted flexibly, as they must account for circumstances where the percentage of care changes significantly. Usually, if the person receiving child support has less than 35% care of the child, the agreement will terminate unless it provides for a period of suspension in those circumstances.

How Romer Maud Can Help You

Creating the best outcome for yourself and your children doesn’t have to feel scary or overwhelming with the right support. Our team at Romer Maud Family Lawyers can help you with navigating the complexities of child support in order to ensure a fair arrangement that supports your life and your children’s development. To work with our compassionate team at Romer Maud, click the button below. 

About The Author - Emina Hidic

Meet Emina! Our wonderful Associate Family Lawyer who joined the practice in 2024. A natural people-person interested in the human condition, and the ways in which she can truly help others, Emina is empathetic, kind and emotionally intelligent. She understands the vulnerability that those going through a separation can face, and works diligently to understand their stories, connect meaningfully and create accessible, flexible support for them. Outside of work, Emina is a keen bird enthusiast, and the mother to her beloved pet bird Fig.

*This post is an overview only and should not be considered as legal advice. If there are any matters that you would like us to advise you on, then please contact us.

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