Child Support Payments | Barwon Community Legal Service
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Child Support Payments

The content on this site is information only and is not legal advice. If you need legal advice please contact us.

Understanding how the Australian child support system works

Child support payments are an essential concern for many separated parents. Although a family law issue, the Australian Government oversees the system. Understanding your rights, obligations, the application process and the assessment criteria will help you work out what’s fair.

What is child support?

Child support refers to the money needed to support a child or children when the parents are separated or divorced.

Child support payments are sometimes referred to as child maintenance payments. They are the payments made by one or both parents to meet the child’s needs. The child support payment scheme is overseen by the Australian Government’s Child Support Services (CSS). The CSS is more commonly known as the Child Support Agency, or CSA.

Australian family law requires that both parents financially support their children, even when separated. However, it’s often the case that one parent earns more money than the other parent. The child support system exists to make sure the obligation is met in the most practical way possible. The CSA looks at many factors to work out whether payments should be made, including:

  • Each parent’s income
  • The needs and expenses of the children
  • Each parent’s caring responsibilities
  • Any other issues.


Parents and non-parent carers can apply for child support assessments.

If you’re a parent, apply for child support as soon as you separate from your partner or spouse. For babies, apply within 13 weeks of the birth of your child if you and the other parent aren’t in a relationship.

If you don’t make an application for child support within the required time, your Family Tax Benefit payments may be reduced to the minimum amount (if you’re receiving Centrelink income).

If you’re a non-parent carer, apply for child support as soon as you become the child’s carer.

For more information about child support for non-parent carers, see the Services Australia website page for non-parent carers.

You can apply for child support by submitting an online form. However, if you believe your circumstances may have complicating factors, we recommend that you get legal advice before you make a child support application.

Complicating factors may include:

  • Family violence
  • Allegations of child abuse
  • Complex financial arrangements
  • Questions about the identity of the child’s father (paternity or parentage)
  • Applications for children with special needs

We recommend you get legal advice before you make the application, to help you work out whether child support is right for your situation. It will also help you to understand how child support is assessed.

In some circumstances, we can give legal advice. At other times, we’ll refer you to another organisation for advice.

Parents and non-parent carers can apply for child support payments by completing and submitting a form online.

When you submit the form, you’ll have to provide information including:

  • Your full name
  • Postal address, email address and phone number
  • Your Centrelink Reference Number (CRN)
  • Child support reference number (if you have one)
  • Tax File Number
  • Details about your income
  • Bank account details

You’ll also need to provide information about your children, including:

  • Full names
  • Dates of birth
  • Their Centrelink Reference Numbers (CRNs)
  • Details about how often you care for them

You should make sure you have all this information available before commencing your application.

How is child support calculated?

The CSA uses a unique formula to work out child support payments, known as a child support assessment

Because every situation is different, the formula will always produce different results. The basic formula works by:

  • Calculating each parent’s taxable income, minus any expenses for living and supporting other dependents (child support income)
  • Adding both child support incomes to work out a total amount
  • Calculating each parent’s percentage of the total child support income (income percentage)
  • Calculating the percentage of time each parent spends caring for the child (care percentage)
  • Calculating the cost of caring for the child for each parent (cost percentage)
  • Subtracting the cost percentage from the income percentage. If the result is more than 0%, the parent may have to pay child support. If the result is less than 0%, the other parent may need child support.
  • Calculating the costs of the children for the parents who must pay child support
  • Arriving at a final figure by multiplying the child support percentage with the costs of the child

For more information on child support calculations and cost of child calculations, visit the CSA website.

You can calculate approximately how much child support you’ll have to pay, or how much you’ll receive, using the Child Support Estimator.

Learn more about child support payments with the Department of Social Services Child Support Guide.

What else do I need to prove for a child support assessment?

Body: When applying for child support, you must be able to prove that you’re the legal parents. This is sometimes known as parentage. Legal parentage is established or can be presumed by CSA in situations including:

  • When the child was born, you and the other person were married to each other
  • The child’s birth certificate names you and the other person as the parents
  • The child’s adoption papers show that you and the other person are the parents
  • You are a male who lived with the child’s mother at any time during the period beginning 44 weeks and ending 20 weeks before the child was born, but you weren’t married to the child’s mother at any time during that period
  • A law Court has declared you or the other person as the legal parent

There are also laws covering parents of children who were born through in vitro fertilisation (IVF) or surrogacy.

If you’re a non-parent carer, you’ll need to show that:

  • You care for the child for approximately one-third of a year
  • You’re not a de facto partner or married to a parent of the child
  • You’re not sharing the care of the child with either of the parents

For both types of applications, you must also be able to show that at least one parent lives in Australia.

There are three ways for child support to be collected and paid:

  • CSA collection
  • Private collection
  • Own arrangements

In a CSA collection arrangement, the CSA assesses the child support. It makes the arrangements to collect the money from one parent and transfer it to the other parent. This arrangement is often used by parties who are experiencing difficulties in communication.

If the paying parent falls behind in payments, the CSA will also take action to recover any money owing.

Private collection is sometimes referred to as a private collect arrangement. It’s used when the CSA has made a child support assessment, but you and the other parent then make private arrangements about how and when payments are made. 

This arrangement is often more flexible than a CSA collection because payments can be made for extra things, for example, school trips or extracurricular activities. If the paying parent stops making payments, CSA may sometimes step in to recover the money. If this happens to you, you must contact CSA immediately and ask it to collect the child support. If you don’t, you may be unable to backdate your claim, causing you to miss out on child support payments.

It’s important to understand that the CSA can only collect payments which are up to three months in arrears. It’s a short time, so you need to act quickly to avoid being left out-of-pocket.

Private collect arrangements work well for parents who have clear communication and are getting along.  

Parents who prefer private collection arrangements may choose to enter into a private child support agreement. For more information, see <Can I make a child support agreement without involving Child Support Services (link to section)>

If you want your child support assessment to cater to special circumstances, you can ask the Government to look into your situation and your finances. Special circumstances may include:

  • Special needs of the child
  • Higher than expected costs of care
  • A significant change to the income of one of the parents
  • The payment of private school fees, to which the parents have previously agreed

For more information about changes in circumstances, visit Service Australia’s website page.

If your circumstances change, you need to tell the CSA, as this may affect your child support assessment. For example, if you are receiving child support and then get a pay rise, failing to notify the CSA may mean that you incur a child support debt because you’re receiving more money than the CSA is basing your assessment on. If the other parent gets a pay rise, you should also act quickly to notify CSA.

Sometimes, the CSA can’t backdate its decisions, which may leave you out-of-pocket for the period between the change in circumstances and CSA’s decision.

If there’s an error in the assessment, or it needs updating, you must apply for a change as soon as possible. The CSA can only go back 18 months to amend an assessment. 

If you need to amend an assessment from more than 18 months ago, you need to apply to the Federal Circuit Court and Family Court of Australia (FCFCOA) for an Order. In these circumstances, you can only go back seven years. Anything further back in time can’t be changed.

If you make a Court application, the process will be more expensive, even if you’re representing yourself. It may also take a long time for the Court to hear the application. Before you make a Court application, you should seek legal advice from a private lawyer.

For more information about changing your child support assessment, visit Services Australia’s website page.

Any application to change an assessment will require you to declare all details of your financial situation to the other parent.

Usually, you only have 28 days to dispute a child support assessment.

You can challenge a child support assessment by asking Services Australia to review the decision. For more information about how to do this, visit Services Australia’s website page about objections to assessment decisions. 

Services Australia deals with objections that don’t include care arrangements for the children.

You can appeal to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT) if:

  • You’re unhappy with the Services Australia review of the assessment
  • You want to challenge CSA’s calculation of your care arrangements
  • You want to challenge a refusal to grant an extension of time to object to a CSA decision

For more information, visit the AAT’s website page about child support reviews.

Family Tax Benefit payments are designed to help parents with the cost of caring for children.

If you receive the Family Tax Benefit A payment, you must apply for a child support assessment if you want to receive more than the minimum payment.

For more information, visit Services Australia’s website page on Family Tax Benefit payments.

Paternity testing is sometimes used to work out whether a person is the biological father of a child. Paternity testing is also known as parentage testing.

Paternity becomes an issue in some cases. Generally only biological parents can be asked to pay child support (unless the person looking after the child is a <non-parent carer (link to Can I get child support if I’m not the child’s parent?)>.

This includes parents named on a child’s birth certificate. If a person named as the father says that he’s not the father, it may be necessary to have testing to establish parentage.

Paternity issues can have a direct impact on Family Tax Benefit payments. If you claim Family Tax Benefit, you’re required to take reasonable steps to seek child support from the other parent. Otherwise, your Family Tax Benefit payment reduces to the minimum rate.  

This means that if one party denies paternity, your child support payments will be delayed until this situation is resolved. If you are taking active steps to seek paternity testing, Centrelink can be notified so that they temporarily do not reduce your Family Tax Benefit.

If you don’t make an application for paternity testing when paternity is in dispute, you risk losing a significant part of your Family Tax Benefit. 

However, you can apply for an exemption to the paternity testing requirement in circumstances including:

  • Risk of emotional trauma or harm, including trauma relating to paternity
  • You don’t know who the other parent is
  • You’ve tried but been unsuccessful in proving paternity

If you’re considering applying for a paternity test, you have 13 weeks from the date of separation, or from when your child was born. If you don’t act within this time, your Family Tax Benefit payment will reduce to the base rate.

We can help you with paternity issues. Contact us to make an appointment. When you come in to see us, we’ll ask you for details, including the full names of any or all partners you had around the time your child was conceived.

Find out more about the paternity testing process.

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.

If you believe your income for the current year will be different from the previous year, you can lodge an estimate of income. You can go to the Services Australia website to download, complete and submit the form to CSA.

If your estimate of income is more than 15 per cent below what you actually earn for the year, CSA can fine you. It can reconcile the income to show that you owe a debt.  If your income is less than your estimate, you can’t recover the overpaid child support. If you lodge an estimate, it’s crucial to tell CSA if your income changes during the year.

Yes, you can. You can make a private agreement with the other parent and then manage the payments between yourselves, and without involving CSA.

Sometimes, these agreements work well for the parties because they’re more accommodating of the children’s needs, living arrangements, or parenting arrangements.

But the risk is that if one party doesn’t follow the agreement, it may become difficult to enforce. Agreements which comply with child support laws can be registered with CSA. This means that if one party defaults, the other party can apply to CSA for enforcement. 

There are two different types of agreements, limited agreements which are easier to change, and binding agreements which are more difficult to change.

For more information about types of agreements visit Victoria Legal Aid’s website page.

Making a private agreement has its risks. You need to be careful that you’re protecting the best interests of your children. Also, the only way to change a binding agreement is by:

  1. Making a new agreement with the other parent
  2. Going to Court and getting an Order, which can be time consuming and expensive.

We recommend that you seek legal advice if you’re interested in making a private agreement.

If one parent has a child support debt, the CSA may intervene to collect the debt.

The CSA has the power to:

  • Seize tax returns
  • Take money from wages
  • Take money from bank accounts
  • Prevent a parent who owes child support from leaving Australia

In severe cases, CSA can take legal action to recover child support payments. 

Sometimes, parents pay expenses for their children in addition to child support, which may create confusion about whether they owe child support.

If you disagree that you owe child support, you can ask CSA to take into account some payments made to a third party (not the receiving parent) as part of your child support responsibilities.

However, unless you have a decision from the CSA about this, you’re legally required to follow the child support assessment, which means you must continue to pay the required child support, no matter how else you support your child.

For more information about recovering child support payments, visit Services Australia’s website page.

Family violence includes abusive behaviour which is violent or threatening and intended to cause fear or harm. Abuse can take many forms, including:

  • Physical
  • Sexual
  • Financial
  • Emotional
  • Verbal
  • Religious

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.

Yes. If you’re a non-parent carer, you can apply for and receive child support if you’re eligible.

Non-parent carers include grandparents, legal guardians and other family members.

If the child spends at least 35 per cent of the time in your care, and you’re not in a relationship with either of the parents, you can apply for a child support assessment.

For more information about child support for non-parent carers, visit Services Australia’s website page.

Child support usually ends when your child turns 18 years old unless a child support ‘terminating event’ occurs.  These include situations where your child becomes ineligible for child support, such as if they turn 18, they go into the care of another person under child welfare law, they become a member of a couple or they cease to be an Australian Citizen.

If your child turns 18 years old before finishing secondary school, you can apply for an extension of child support until the end of the school year. You must apply to CSA before your child’s 18th birthday. 

CSA will only allow for payments to continue until the end of the school year where the child:

  • Was already registered for child support before turning 18 years old; and
  • Turned 18 years old while still at secondary school; and
  • The receiving parent asked for the financial support to continue until the end of the school year

For more information about child support when your child turns 18, visit Service Australia’s website page.

You may need to seek child support from the other parent who is living outside Australia. How easily and quickly you can set up payments will depend on whether Australia has reciprocal child support agreements with the other country. You’ll need help from CSA to make arrangements. In some circumstances, collection may not be possible.

If you’re living outside Australia and seeking child support from the other parent who is living in Australia, you will need to make a child support application by filling out an international form. The CSA is best able to help you if you live in a country that has an arrangement with Australia for the collection of child support.

For child support issues where one parent lives overseas, visit Service Australia’s website page for more information.

A parent carer, or a child over 18 years, is able to seek financial support from the non resident parent if the child:

  • Is completing secondary or tertiary education. For example, high school, TAFE, university, or a course at a private college (apprenticeships may also be included); or
  • Has a serious illness; or
  • Has a physical or mental disability

Many people choose to manage payments by making private arrangements between themselves or agreeing without needing a Court Order.  Other parents are more comfortable with a formal arrangement, which can be made by taking their agreement to a lawyer who then completes the paperwork for their agreement to be  made into a Court Order called a Consent Order. Consent Orders are made by consent, meaning that you and the other parent both agree to the Court making the Order.

If you are unable to agree, a dispute resolution service may help. For more information, visit Family Relationships Online.

Applying for a Court Order

Where no agreement is reached, either the carer parent or the adult child can apply to the Court for an adult child maintenance Order against the other parent. They can do so:

  • When a child is 17, with the maintenance to begin when the child turns 18; or
  • After the child has turned 18.

It’s helpful if the adult child can demonstrate that they are trying to pay for some of their support, for example, by working part-time. However, the Court will take into account whether work is available, the child’s study commitments as well as any illness or disability.

The Court will only order payments for an adult child’s necessary expenses. It takes into account the financial circumstances of the paying parent and any obligations to support other people in their lives.

How is payment made?

If a Court Order is made, the parent carer may choose to register their Order with CSA to collect the payments. If the Court Order is made between one parent and the child (without the involvement of the other parent), CSA can’t collect the debt on behalf of the adult child.  

If the paying parent refuses to continue the support payments after being ordered to do so by a Court, you may need to take legal action.

We can advise you on maintenance payments for your adult child. Contact us to find out more.

How Barwon Community Legal Service help

We can help you with advice about:

  • How to deal with CSA
  • Paternity (parentage) issues
  • Change of assessment applications
  • Objections to assessments
  • Departure applications, which stop a paying parent from leaving Australia if a debt is owed
  • Stays, which allow a Court to temporarily stop payment of money between the parties while it considers a dispute
  • Adult Child Maintenance applications for children aged over 18 years

We don’t negotiate or draft binding financial agreements. You’ll need to consult a private lawyer for this.

We provide casework for child support cases in special circumstances and as our funding allows.

When you make an appointment with us, we may ask you to bring in important information, including:

  • Child support Assessments and correspondence
  • Tax returns
  • Details of childcare arrangements
  • Court Orders
  • Children’s expenses
  • Household expenses
  • Details of assets

This information will help us to work out how best to assist you.

Find out what’s best for your children

Working through child support is a complex process. We may be able to provide you with legal assistance and help you navigate government agencies.
Contact us to book an appointment.

Call Us Today

Last modified on October 7th, 2021 at 1:49 pm

The content on this site is information only and is not legal advice. If you need legal advice please contact us.