Children are entitled to financial support from both parents, even if the parents are separated, or the child was a result of a short-term relationship. The Child Support scheme is managed by Services Australia (Child Support), which was set up by the Commonwealth Government as a free system to assess how much child support should be paid, and to collect and if necessary, enforce payments. Knowing your rights and how the system works can help you know whether you are being paid the right amount.
If your situation is complex, for example paternity is not clear or family violence is involved, you should get legal advice first. Our community lawyers at Barwon Community Legal Service regularly provide free legal assistance for child support problems.
Do I have to use the Child Support Scheme?
Parents may make personal agreements about payments: you should obtain legal advice first.
If you receive Centrelink’s Family Tax Benefit A you must apply for child support or Centrelink will reduce those payments to the minimum. If you receive payments direct from the other parent, Centrelink will assume that you are receiving the full amount of child support and reduce your payments accordingly.
How is Child Support calculated?
Services Australia uses a formula which takes into account a number of factors including:
- the parents’ taxable incomes; the amount of time (usually nights) each parent spends with the child;
- the child’s age;
- the parents’ other dependents, and the cost of raising a child.
Your taxable income from the last financial year is used for the calculation. You should ensure you lodge a tax return or non-lodgment form every year.
To get an estimate of the child support you will pay or receive, use the Child Support Estimator
How do I apply?
Either parent can apply for an assessment.
You can apply by phone or online and should do this as soon as possible after separation or the birth of the child. You can start your application here: Assessment Application
How do I dispute a decision?
You can object to most decisions about child support, but you only have 28 days, so be quick. For full details visit Objections to Child Support Decisions
Do you think you are paying too much or not receiving enough? Have circumstances changed?
Child support payments have priority over most other expenses such as a mortgage. There are only 10 special circumstances under which you can apply for a reassessment and you will need to provide evidence for at least one of these reasons. Changing your assessment in special circumstances
If your income drops by 15% or more you can contact Services Australia and lodge an “Estimate of Income” and the amount of child support will be reassessed. It is important that you let them know when you start earning more, or you can end up owing money after your tax is reconciled.
As a family violence survivor do I need to apply for child support?
Family violence includes abusive behaviour which is violent or threatening and intended to cause fear or harm.
If you’re receiving payments for Family Tax Benefit A, you must apply for child support if you wish to receive more than the base payment. If you have left a violent relationship (or are planning on leaving), personal safety may become an issue if you need to apply for child support from a violent former partner.
However, the Government recognises that this requirement may pose a significant risk to some families. You can apply for an exemption to the requirement, meaning that you can get permission to continue receiving your usual government benefits without having to apply for child support. Speak to one of our lawyers about your situation and how to apply for an exemption.
When do child support payments finish?
Payments generally stop when a child turns 18. If a child turns 18 during the school year and the receiving parent asks Services Australia to continue payments, they can agree for payments to continue until the end of that school year.
Adult child maintenance can be agreed to by the parents, or awarded by a Court, if a child is continuing in their education after they are 18. If a child has special needs (e.g. a disability) payments can continue for the rest of their life. Get legal advice for these situations, as they are not part of the Child Support Scheme and either need an agreement or a Court Order to occur.
For more information visit our website
Elsie Stokie is a Senior lawyer who has been a community lawyer for over 30 years, working as a specialist Child Support lawyer at the Barwon Community Legal Service Inc for 10 years.
Orla’s paternity test challenge
Orla made an appointment to see a lawyer at the Barwon Community Legal Service (BCLS). She was the sole parent to three-year-old Shauna.
Orla was receiving the Family Tax Benefit but hadn’t been able to get Shauna’s father, David, to pay any child support. David denied that he was Shauna’s father, and this was stopping Orla from applying for a child support assessment.
Because she hadn’t applied for an assessment, Centrelink reduced Orla’s Family Tax Benefit payments to the base rate, causing severe financial distress. She was concerned that she wouldn’t be able to keep up with rent payments, and that she and Shauna were facing eviction.
The BCLS lawyer contacted Centrelink and told them that BCLS was helping Orla establish Shauna’s paternity, which would allow her to apply for child support. Centrelink agreed to pay her Family Tax Benefit at the higher rate until the issue was sorted out. This gave Orla some immediate financial relief.
Next, BCLS applied to Victorian Legal Aid for funding to pay for the testing, and then applied to the Geelong Magistrates Court for an Order that David must undergo paternity testing. However, David refused to provide a sample.
BCLS then applied to the Court for an Order declaring David was Shauna’s father. The Court granted the Order, and BCLS used the Order to help Orla apply for child support, and to ensure she was receiving the correct rate of Family Tax Benefit.