A Guide to Child Support in Australia
Going through a separation or divorce is often made more complicated when there are children involved. While couples may want to finalise financial and property settlement as quickly as possible post-separation, when it comes to custody of children and child support, it’s important to consider what is best for the child in the long run.
In Australia, both parents are legally required to support their child under the Child support Scheme, so regardless of where the child lives, each parent has a financial obligation to support the child until they turn 18. Keep reading for an overview of what exactly child support is, and how it may work in your family.
What is child support?
Under the Child Support Assessment Act, child support means ongoing financial support provided to a child after their parents have separated or divorced. Child support is designed to help cover the expenses associated with raising a child such as food, clothing, medical expenses, school fees, housing, and more.
Child support can be, and is commonly paid from one parent to the other in regular payments, but can also be paid as lump sum payments, or by way of paying for specific costs, such as school fees.
In Australia, the Department of Human Services’ Child Support Agency is responsible for governing most of Australia’s child support agreements, although child support can be handled in two ways. First, you and your ex-partner can privately agree to a binding child support agreement. Or, you can make an application to the Department of Human Services (DHS), who makes an assessment and calculation of the amount payable.
For many families, coming to an amicable agreement without involving the DHS is usually less stressful, and can be handled between you and your ex-partner, or with the help of a family lawyer. In some circumstances, however, this isn’t possible, and the DHS can make a ruling on how much is appropriate for who to pay.
How much does child support cost?
The amount of child support payable varies from family to family and is dependent on a number of factors, including income of each parent and the amount of time the child is in each parent's care.
The child support cost assumes the obligation of each parent to financially support their child, and is in principle, based on the percentage of time each parent cares for the child. If, for example, you and your ex-partner share joint custody of your children 50/50, expenses are more likely to be shared evenly. If one of you only cares for the children on weekends, you may be required to pay more child support.
There are other factors that come into play, such as the cost of school fees, medical bills or other expenses, which can vary greatly between families.
How is the cost of child support calculated?
When managed by the Department of Human Services, an administrative assessment of your situation is carried out to determine which parent should pay child support and how much. This assessment is done using a complicated formula that takes into account:
The income available to each parent minus the cost required to ‘self support’
The number of dependent children a parent needs to support and how old they each are
The amount of time the child spends with each parent
The percentage of the child’s costs each parent covers
The average cost of raising a child in Australia
Costs specific to this child
This complicated formula is used to determine an amount suitable for each child, payable by one parent, usually to the other. If you would like to investigate how much child support you are eligible for, or may be required to pay, there is a child support guide and an online estimator available on the DHS Child Support Agency website.
What is the maximum child support payable in Australia?
There is a cap on the amount of child support payable when the application is made through the DHS. This is calculated using the combined income of each parent, up to 2.5 times the annual equivalent of the Male Average Total Weekly Earnings, and the cost of children table, both of which can be found on the DHS Child Support Guide website.
If you and your ex-partner choose to make an agreement privately, this amount may change. If you are unsure if the amount you or your ex-partner has suggested, our experienced family lawyers can talk you through the costs of raising your child, your rights and obligations, and negotiate an amount suitable for your situation.
What does child support cover exactly?
There are no set rules under Australian law on what child support can and cannot be used for, aside from the rule that it must be used for the benefit of the child. A parent cannot use the money to pay for goods and services that benefit themselves only.
Child support is designed to cover the fixed costs associated with raising a child that are regularly shared between parents, such as food, shelter, clothing, school fees, school uniforms, extra-curricular activities such as sports, and medical fees.
While child support is usually thought of as regular payments, it can be paid in a number of ways, such as covering the cost of school fees, school uniforms, medical expenses, or extra-curricular activities. The purpose of child support is to support the child financially to give them a reasonable equal opportunity.
Who has to pay child support in Australia?
In Australia, responsibility for a child falls on every parent, whether you are a biological parent, an adoptive parent, or a parent as a result of artificial conception. Your responsibility for your child does not change based on where you live, how often the child is in your care, if you separate or get divorced from your child’s other parent, and even if you remarry. Your responsibility to your child also does not change if you were involved in the decision to have and keep a child or not, regardless of if you were in a relationship, or the child was conceived on a one night stand.
This means that, depending on your circumstances, you or your ex-partner will likely be required to pay some form of child support.
If one of you has sole custody of your child, the other parent will usually be obliged to pay for half of the expenses required to raise the child, including food, shelter, clothing and school fees. They may also be required to pay half of any other expenses that arise, such as the cost of school camps, or extra curricular activities.
If you share joint custody of your child, child support may be necessary if there is a large disparity in income between you and your ex-partner, or if you do not care for the children equally (50/50). You must also be an Australian resident under the Income Tax Assessment Act, or a resident of a prescribed foreign jurisdiction that Australia has an agreement with to collect child support payments. To find out more about your obligations or entitlements to pay child support, or what it means if you or your ex-partner live abroad, contact us for an obligation free consultation.
What if I am unhappy with the outcome of the administrative assessment?
In some cases, you may feel the assessment made by the Department of Human Services is unfair to one parent. You may feel you are being asked to pay too much, or the payments your ex-partner is asked to provide are too little and you won’t be able to financially support your child.
In some cases the assessment may become unfair if one of you loses your job, one of you has greatly minimised your taxable income for the purpose of the assessment, or if there are significant costs such as private school fees or medical fees for an unwell child. If this happens, you can apply to have your assessment reevaluated by the DHS via an internal review process, or you can apply to the Social Security Appeal Tribunal for a review. In some circumstances you may be able to apply to court.
If you and your ex-partner made a private child support agreement, our experienced family lawyers can also renegotiate to come to a new arrangement that better suits you and your ex-partner.
If you are concerned about your current child support agreement, are unsure of the best avenue to challenge it, or even need advice before applying for an assessment, speak to the experienced team at Peter Andrews Lawyers. We can step you through your options to ensure the fairest and best outcome for you and your children.
Frequently Asked Questions
At what age does child support stop?
Child Support typically ends when the child turns 18. If the child is in their final year of high school when they turn 18, child support payments must continue until the end of that school year.
There are some cases in which child support payments continue after the child turns 18, when it is called Child Maintenance. Child maintenance is payable if the child is studying secondary or tertiary education, which includes a university degree or an apprenticeship, if the child has a physical or mental disability, or if the child is seriously ill.
Child support payments don’t usually roll over into maintenance; an application must be made prior to the child turning 18, and can be made by either the parent or the child themselves. The amount of child maintenance payable depends on a number of factors including:
The necessary expenses of the child
The capacity the parent has to pay for these expenses
The amount the parent requires to support themselves and any other dependents they have
If a child under the age of 18 gets married, or enters into a de facto relationship, they are also no longer eligible for child support.
Can parents make their own arrangements about child support?
Yes, you and your ex-partner can make your own arrangements for financially supporting your children without applying for an assessment from the DHS. In fact, this is usually the preferred way of coming to an agreement that is suitable for all parties.
Even if you have an amicable relationship with your ex-partner, it is always advised to seek independent legal counsel and put your child support agreement in writing. This ensures clarity on what is required of each person, and avoids conflict down the track if one person tries to back out of their part of the agreement. You can also register your agreement with the DHS.
Which children are eligible for child support?
Child support is available to all children living in Australia whose parents are not together.
In order to be eligible for child support, a child must:
Be under 18 years of age, or 18 and in their final year of high school
Not be married or in a de facto relationship
Reside in Australia or a foriegn jurisdiction with which Australia has a child support agreement
If a child moves abroad from Australia or is no longer an Australian citizen and there is no international maintenance agreement applicable, child support payments cease to be paid under Australian law.
Can I apply for child support?
If you are a parent, caring for your child at least part of the time, and are not living with the child’s other parent, you can apply for child support. In some instances, if you are caring for a child that is not your own, you can also apply for child support. Speak to our expert family lawyers for an obligation free consultation of your situation and your rights.
How is child support paid?
Usually parents make their own arrangements for how and when child support payments are made. If this is the case, it’s important to keep a record of payments for future reference.
If you and your ex-partner are unable to reach an agreement, or if the parent responsible for paying child support refuses, the DHS can collect payment and redistribute it to the other parent. The DHS can also mandate that their employer deducts the amount from their wages to make the payment.
If you are entitled to be paid child support from your ex-partner but they are refusing, our experienced family lawyers can assist you in taking action to obtain payment.
Does a new partner affect child support?
The only people responsible for financially supporting a child are the child’s parents, and the amount of child support payable is calculated on the income of the child’s parents only. If one parent enters a new relationship or gets remarried, the amount they are required to pay in child support does not change, unless the amount of time they care for the child changes. If you or your ex-partner have a child with a new partner, you also need to alert the DHS, as this may impact the amount of child support payable.