This article was written by Dr Nicola Bowes

Dr Nicola Bowes holds a Bachelor of Arts with first class honours from the University of Tasmania, a Bachelor of Laws with first class honours from the Queensland University of Technology, and a PhD from The University of Queensland. After a decade working in higher education, Nicola joined Armstrong Legal in 2020.

Child Support Law Questions


Separating parents often have many questions about the Australian child support system. Some of the most commonly asked child support law questions are answered below.

What is Child Support?

Child support is a payment made by one parent to another to contribute to the upbringing of a child or children. These funds are provided to help cover necessities such as food, housing, clothing, education expenses, medical costs and reasonable extracurricular activities. Importantly, child support is not provided as income support to the other parent.

To qualify for child support, a child must be under eighteen years of age, an Australian resident (or from a country with reciprocal rights in place), and have parents that live apart. A young person is not entitled to child support if they have a domestic partner of their own.

How Do You Apply for Child Support?

Child support can be agreed privately between parents and recorded in a legally enforceable arrangement called a Child Support Agreement. This document will stipulate the frequency with which child support will be paid, the amount to be paid, and the method of payment. A Child Support Agreement is only binding if both parents have received independent legal advice prior to agreeing to the arrangement.

If an agreement cannot be reached privately, a parent can apply to the Department of Human Services for assessment.

Who Pays Child Support?

All parents are obligated to support their children financially. The amount that each parent is obliged to pay will depend upon the amount of time they provide direct care for the child themselves, and their income. It is probable that a parent will have to pay child support if the other parent acts as the primary caregiver to the child, and/or if they have a higher income than the other parent.

How is Child Support Calculated?

Child support is calculated based on an eight-step formula that considers factors including the age of the child, the income of each parent, whether the parent has any other dependents, and the percentage of time that the child is in the care of each parent. The formula also includes consideration of the specific costs of raising that child, such as their living, medical and educational expenses.

Can Child Support Cover a Parent’s Expenses?

Child support must only be used for the upbringing of the child, and should not be used by either parent for personal expenditures. Inappropriate expenditure of child support can be reported, and the court may order a reassessment of the child support to verify the actual needs of the child. If the court finds that there has been an inappropriate application of child support, there may be legal consequences for the offending parent.

Can Child Support be Applied to Private School Fees?

A Child Support Assessment does not normally make provision for the cost of private education as part of the necessary cost of bringing up children. A parent can apply for a decision that child support should extend to include private education, but there is no guarantee that the application will be successful. An important factor in this decision will be whether there had been a prior agreement between the parents as to the education of the child. If the parents have previously agreed to privately educate their child, and there is sufficient income to support this arrangement moving forward, the court may include the cost of this education in the Child Support Assessment. If the parents have no prior agreement, then the court will not make provision for private education. The only exception is where a parent can prove that the child’s wellbeing relies on private schooling.

Can the Child Support Amount be Changed?

An application to modify monthly child support can be made to the court at any time, by either parent. The parent needs to have justification for the requested change, such as unforeseen and necessary expenses that require an increase in support. On the other hand, a parent can file a request with the court to have their circumstances reviewed if their income has decreased or they are otherwise unable to meet their financial obligations.

What if a Parent Fails to Pay Child Support?

If a parent has not successfully applied to decrease their child support obligations, and they fail to pay the amount stipulated in the Child Support Agreement, then the courts can issue a contempt order or even file criminal charges. These missed payments are called Past Due Support, and the courts will keep records of the accrued amount and attempt to recover them through wage garnishing, or in severe cases, the seizure of assets and property. A recipient of child support can also retain the services of a collection agency to try and recover the unpaid amounts.

When Does Child Support End?

Child support does not automatically end when a child turns eighteen. The courts might find that a child is still primarily dependent upon a parent or parents for monetary support.

Child support may also end prior to the child turning eighteen, if the child has become emancipated and outside the “sphere of influence” of the parent. In these circumstances, a court will order that support payments can cease.

Is a Lawyer Required for Child Support Matters?

Child Support matters can be complex. It will benefit each parent to engage a solicitor experienced in child support law who can answer any questions and represent the parent in court during hearings.

If you have any other questions relating to child support law, please call Armstrong Legal on 1300 038 223 or send us an email to make an appointment.

WHERE TO NEXT?

Taking the next step and contacting a family lawyer can be scary. Our lawyers will make you feel comfortable so you can talk about your situation. But first, ask yourself, Do I really need a lawyer?

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