Understanding Child Support

By 20 June 2019Family Law

When a relationship ends in a legal separation, each parent still has an obligation to support a child or children from the relationship until they reach the age of 18, including providing ongoing financial assistance. This process of arranging child support can initially be difficult and open to conflict between the parties, which is why seeking out the right advice on your rights and obligations is highly advised.

The Child Support Agency (CSA) manages the assessment of child support arrangements and is the best place for all separated parents to go to firstly understand their rights and obligations, and to ensure their children will be financially protected. The CSA will determine the amount of ongoing financial support that is legally required to be paid and to whom. This is achieved through the use of a tailored formula which takes into account factors including:

  • The costs of raising each child (which is pre-determined and contained in the relevant legislation, based on independent research);
  • each parent’s taxable income and the parents’ combined income;
  • how much time each parent cares for the child/children from the relationship; and
  • children of previous and subsequent relationships.

Additionally, there is an option for the CSA to collect the assessed child support payment on behalf of the receiving parent and then transfer it to them. Other separated parents may choose to arrange private collection of the child support amount between the paying and receiving parent.

Can the CSA assessment be reviewed?

The CSA’s assessment of child support is designed to ensure that each child’s day-to-day living expenses in the house where they primarily reside are covered, however if unexpected/exceptional circumstances arise, the assessment can potentially be reviewed.

Additional factors to consider are expenses related to education and healthcare. For example, if the parents intend for their child/children to attend private schooling, or if there are heath cost concerns (such as chronic illness, dental, etc.), the assessment could be reviewed (with relevant evidence) as the CSA formula typically does not cover those types of expenses. A parent can request that the CSA factor these additional costs into the assessment and, if successful, issue an adjustment to reflect the changes.

The assessment can also be reviewed for some other exceptional circumstances, however if you feel this reflects your situation it is strongly recommended that you seek specialised advice from a family law professional prior to making your claim.

If you believe the CSA used incorrect information when making their assessment, or it did not apply the law correctly for your circumstances, it is possible to object to its decision. If there are ongoing disputes about the child support assessment and you have exhausted all the necessary avenues through the CSA, sometimes it can become necessary to apply to the Court for an order departing from the assessment. If this happens, the Court will then decide what amount would be appropriate to meet the children’s (reasonable) needs.

The risks of private collection

Some parents choose to bypass the CSA and establish private child support arrangements between each other. Excluding a governing body from the child support process carries some risk, so to ensure these private agreements are legally binding and properly replace a child support assessment (or in some cases, sit alongside it), the parents need to enter into a Binding Child Support Agreement or a Limited Child Support Agreement. There are different requirements and benefits associated with respect to each of these and you should speak to an experienced family lawyer so that you can tailor child support arrangements to best align with your circumstances and the needs of your child/children.

Arranging and maintaining child support can become complex and difficult to navigate at times, particularly in circumstances where parents do not agree with the CSA’s original assessment. There can also be additional issues apart from the existing financial question, such as when paternity is being contested.

Be aware that the CSA has specific timelines which must be met in the application, objection and review processes. It is important that specialised advice is sought if you have a specific query or concern, as well as to meet the relevant timelines. Our experienced Family Law teams in Brisbane and Toowoomba are readily able to assist you with these queries so please contact us today.

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