Once partners separate, family obligations are always an uncertain matter. But the one constant obligation is parents' duties to support their children. However parents and non-parent carers don't always feel supported by the information available in knowing their rights and obligations under the child support system.
The Child Support System
When working out child support payment, the Child Support Agency looks at:
- Both parents' income;
- If any other children are being supported;
- The ages and costs of raising children (based on the combined income of the parents); and
- The amount of time cared for the children ('care levels').
The Agency's assessment of these factors may also affect Family Tax Benefits.
If at any time you do not understand any communication from the Child Support Agency, or you think their assessment is incorrect or unfair, always seek legal advice.
Child Support Agreements
There are two types of child support agreements that can be used as alternatives to the child support formula assessment. These agreements allow parents to reach their own arrangement that contains the amount of child support to be paid, in what form, and how it should be transferred. Always seek legal advice before making or consenting to a child support agreement.
Binding Child Support Agreements
This is a written and signed agreement made after each parent has sought legal advice and each lawyer must attach a Certificate of Independent Legal Advice to the agreement. Each parent must have a different lawyer. Binding agreements are ended by making a new one or a court agreeing to end it. This agreement allows for child support amounts less than the Child Support Agency would calculate.
Limited Child Support Agreements
This can only be made if there is a child support formula assessment already in place with the Child Support Agency. The amount in the agreement must be equal to or more than the Child Support Agency formula amount. There is no legal requirement to obtain legal advice but it is highly recommended that you do. An agreement is not legal if a court finds it was made using threats or pressure.
Transferring Child Support Between Each Parent or Carer
The Child Support Agency collects and transfer child support payments between each parent or to non-parent carers. Payments can also be transferred privately between the parties if both agree to do this. Collecting and transferring between parties is available with a Child Support Agency formula assessment or a private child support agreement. If payments are not made with private collection arrangements, the Child Support Agency can start to collect the payments. They can only collect payments owed for the past three months. In special cases, it may be nine months worth of owed payments.
How Income Affects Child Support
Both parents share the costs of children. When the Child Support Agency works out these costs by combining both parents' income, each parent has a 'self support amount' deducted from their income before the calculations are done. The parent with the higher income is responsible for providing the greater share of the children’s costs.
How Tax Returns Affect Child Support
The Child Support Agency and the Australian Taxation Office share records. If you lodge a tax return late, your child support assessment for past years may be changed. You may have paid too much or too little child support and may cause financial difficulties.
If you look after the children but are not a parent of the children you can apply to the Child Support Agency for child support. Seek legal advice for more information.
Same Sex Relationships
From 1 July 2009, the child support scheme includes children from a previous same sex relationship.