Child support has the potential to be one of the more complicated issues when two people separate, and it’s not uncommon for it to be a source of considerable angst for both the payer and payee parent.
It can be further complicated if one parent resides in Australia, but the other parent resides in another country. Many, many countries (including Australia) have reciprocal arrangements with each other where one country can request that the Child Support Agency, or the equivalent government department in the other country, pursue child support arrears on their behalf. It is fair to say that countries such as the United States of America take that obligation extremely seriously and pursue liable parents who are in their jurisdiction with gusto.
The recent case of Child Support Registrar & Higgins And Anor  FamCAFC 2 provides a very timely reminder of the fact that:
- Child support liabilities cannot be ignored or avoided by leaving a country in which a party is liable to pay child support, and;
- The process for dealing with a child support liability which has accrued in one country, but is being pursued in another country, requires the party’s, their practitioners, and the Court to have regard to the specific legislation and regulations which put the ‘reciprocal agreements’ between the relevant countries into effect.
Ignoring child support which may be owing in another country, or pursuing child support from a parent who is residing outside of Australia, can be a complicated exercise which is made more complicated the longer the situation is left unattended.
A further development in the child support arena is that as of 1 July 2015 the Social Security Appeals Tribunal (and a number of other tribunals) were amalgamated into the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT), and child support disputes are now determined by the Social Services and Child Support division of the AAT. As a consequence of that amalgamation, the comments below shall refer to the AAT rather than the SSAT.
When a party makes an application to the Child Support Agency to vary an administrative assessment they cannot be legally represented at the hearing conducted by the Child Support Agency. Nor can they be represented in the event that they object to the original Child Support Agency decision, but this is not to say that legal representative cannot assist in preparing the material for the Child Support Agency so as to ensure that the relevant s117 factors set out in the Child Support (Assessment) Act 1989 are addressed. In many cases, seeking assistance at that stage may be of considerable assistance.
However if after going through the Child Support Agency’s objection processes a party remains aggrieved with the decision they are entitled to make an application to the AAT. Once a matter reaches the AAT party’s may, with the permission of the AAT, be represented. Given the fact that decisions of the AAT may have far-reaching consequences for a party there is, perhaps, some merit in a party being represented at that point.
This publication has been carefully prepared, but it has been written in general terms and should be viewed as broad guidance only. It does not purport to be comprehensive or to render advice. No one should rely on the information contained in this publication without first obtaining professional advice relevant to their own specific situation.