Child Support

Child support

The child support scheme aims to ensure that children receive an appropriate level of financial support from parents who are separated. The Department of Human Services (DHS) delivers the scheme and provides services to parents and carers. DHS assists parents to apply for a child support assessment and facilitates the collection and transfer of child support payments. 

DHS child support phone number

The number to call for child support is 131 272

DHS child support online contact

Your first point of contact for child support is DHS via their website.

You will need to create a Child Support Online account or you can sign in with mygov.

Parent’s guide to child support

There is a parent’s guide to child support available here.

How much child support?

The amount of child support you will either pay or get depends on:

  • how much you earn,

  • how many children you have,

  • how old your children are,

  • who cares for your children.

Child support calculator

The child support calculator is provided by DHS and is available here.

What does child support cover in Australia?

Child Support aims to cover the following categories of expenses:

  • Food;

  • Housing costs;

  • School costs;

  • Medical costs;

  • Extra-curricular activities; and

  • Clothing.

Child support assessment

Child support payments are calculated according to an administrative formula that uses an income shares approach and is based on research into the cost of raising children in Australia.

The formula:

  • uses the combined income of both parents to calculate child support payments;

  • excludes the same self-support amount from both parents’ incomes, treating them in the same way;

  • calculates child support payments based on the costs of raising children, according to the incomes of both parents; and

  • recognises both parents’ contributions to the cost of their children through care.

The formula does not include an allowance for private school fees or health insurance premiums.

Paying and collecting child support

Once a final figure is reached for how much child support should be provided, parents then have the choice to pay the agreed figure directly to the payee privately or they can use the Child Support Agency (“CSA”) services.

The CSA can provide CSA Collect whereby the child support agency collects and transfers payments between the parties.

Statistics from CSA show that more than half, in fact 53.2% of payments are made under private arrangements.

Making changes to child support

What if the child support contribution is unfair?

If you feel that your child support contribution or receipt is unfair, you can apply to the CSA to consider special circumstances such as:-

  • The child support assessment does not reflect the true financial position of either party – one party has not disclosed their real financial position

  • Accessibility and cost of spending time with a child needs evaluation – separated parents who live miles away and thereby cannot spend as much time with their children and/or travel costs are prohibitive

Since child support covers the main areas of food, housing, school, medical, extra-curricular fees and clothing – there are items that sit outside these categories and these will require further negotiation with your ex.

Changing child support assessment

If parents feel that the formula does not reflect the special circumstances of their case, they may apply to DHS for a Change of Assessment (COA). Under this process, DHS can examine the broader financial circumstances of both parents and make a decision to depart from the formula assessment.

Appealing child support decisions

Most child support decisions can be reviewed through the objection process. If a parent disagrees with a decision made on their case, they can lodge an objection with DHS for an internal review.

If either parent disagrees with the objection decision, they can appeal to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT) for an independent review of the decision. Some decisions made by the AAT can be appealed to the AAT for a second review, such as care percentage decisions.

Decisions made by the AAT can only be appealed to a court due to an error of law.

Child support agreements

Parents may also choose to negotiate their own child support arrangements through a child support agreement. Agreements can specify the amount, frequency and method of payments but must meet the requirements of the legislation in order to be accepted by DHS.

Usually there will be a payer and a payee. The payer is typically calculated to have more income and/or less time with the children while the payee who receives the money is the one with less income and more direct time with the children.

Negotiating and making a child support agreement

Under the Child Support (Assessment) Act it is possible to make a binding agreement that sets or alters the amount of child support to be paid and which can also to take into account things such as:

  • private school fees;

  • uniforms, books and extra-curricular-activities;

  • private health insurance;

  • additional costs due to the ‘special needs’ of a child.

Types of child support agreements

The two types of private child support agreements are:

  • Limited Child Support Agreements; and,

  • Binding Child Support Agreements.

In order to be enforceable, private child support agreements need to meet very specific legal requirements.

What is a limited child support agreement?

A limited child support agreement is an agreement where the parties have not obtained legal advice. Limited child support agreements allow parents some flexibility to determine their own child support arrangements. A limited child support agreement must be in writing and signed by both parents. Neither party needs to seek legal advice before entering into a limited child support agreement.

For the Child Support Agency to accept a limited child support agreement:

  1. there must be a child support assessment from the Child Support Agency in place; and

  2. the amount payable under the agreement must be equal to, or more than, the child support assessment.

After three years either party may elect to terminate a limited agreement without the other party’s consent by notifying the Child Support Registrar.

What is a binding child support agreement?

Binding child support agreements allow parents to make long-term arrangements with respect to child support. They operate in a similar manner to financial agreements which parties can make in relation to property, superannuation and spousal maintenance. Each party to a binding child support agreement must have received legal advice before signing the agreement.

A binding child support agreement must:

  1. be in writing and signed by both parents or the parents and eligible non-parent carer;

  2. include a statement to the effect that each party has received independent legal advice as to the effect and advantages and/or disadvantages of the agreement, before it is signed; and

  3. include an annexure, for each of the parties to the agreement, signed by the person who provided the legal advice, which certifies that the advice was provided.

There is no requirement for an administrative assessment from the Child Support Agency to be in place prior to the making or acceptance of this type of agreement.

Once parents have made a child support agreement, either parent can apply to the Registrar of the Child Support Agency to have it accepted and registered.

Changing or setting aside a binding child support agreement

There are potentially four ways to change or set aside a binding child support agreement namely:

  1. a termination agreement (whereby legal advice must first be obtained by both parties);

  2. a termination clause in another child support agreement; or

  3. a Court order varying or setting aside an agreement – but the below criteria must be satisfied:

    • Exceptional circumstances exist relating to a party to the agreement or the child;

    • Those exceptional circumstances arose since the agreement was made; and

    • The applicant or the child will suffer hardship if the agreement is not set aside.

  4. a notice given to the Registrar that the party receiving child support is no longer an “eligible carer.

Recent amendments to the Child Support (Assessment) Act 1989 (Cth) have simplified the way that binding child support agreements can be terminated in certain circumstances. The amendments intend to make it easier for binding child support agreements to be terminated where the child’s care arrangements change.

It is no longer necessary for a party paying child support under a child support agreement to apply to the court to terminate the agreement where circumstances have changed such that the party receiving child support has less than 35% care of the child. An administrative process is now available.

Normally, a binding child support agreement cannot be varied after it has been entered into other than by agreement between the parties. It is now possible for parties to enter into a new agreement in order to vary their previous obligations or to terminate a binding child support agreement.

The new and expanded mechanisms for terminating a binding child support agreement are:

  • Through the creation, by both parents, of a new child support agreement which expressly negates the operation of the earlier agreement;

  • Through a “termination agreement” entered into between both parents;

  • By way of a court order; or

  • On notifying the Registrar that the party receiving child support is no longer an “eligible carer”.

The result of this amendment is that the Registrar can now administratively terminate a binding child support agreement (without the need for a court order) where:

  • The party receiving child support (the payee) begins to have less than 35% care of the child; and

  • The period in which the payee has less than 35% care of the child is at least 28 days; and

  • The child support agreement has not been suspended (either by virtue of a provision in the agreement itself, notification to the Registrar, or a decision of the Registrar); and

  • The payee would otherwise continue to be entitled to child support in accordance with the child support agreement.

The effect of the amendments is that the paying party does not need to make an application to the court to have a binding child support agreement terminated where the child’s care arrangements change and the payee has less than 35% care of the child. They do need to notify the Child Support Registrar of the change in circumstances and provide adequate information to verify the changed circumstances.

These amendments apply to new binding child support agreements made after 1 July 2018 and to agreements made before 1 July 2018 where there is a change in care arrangements after 1 July 2018.

These amendments are a logical extension to the existing powers of the Registrar to vary formula assessments when satisfied that an ongoing change of care has occurred.

The recent amendments remove the need for a party to apply to the court to terminate a binding child support agreement where the party receiving child support has less than 35% care of the child, but there will still be other circumstances where an application to the court will be necessary. In those cases, the below three elements must be established for the court to exercise its discretion to terminate the agreement:

  • Exceptional circumstances exist relating to a party to the agreement or the child;

  • Those exceptional circumstances arose since the agreement was made; and

  • The applicant or the child will suffer hardship if the agreement is not set aside.

Even where the above criteria are established, the court has discretion as to whether to terminate the agreement or not. The Family Court has applied the above criteria strictly.

In Masters & Cheyne (2016) FLC 98-072, the Full Court comprised of Murphy, Aldridge and Austin JJ delivered separate judgments dealing with the termination of a binding child support agreement where the subject child had commenced living with the father who was liable to pay child support to the mother (who had moved interstate). The judge at first instance had found that the change in the child’s care arrangements was one factor which led to her decision that there were “exceptional circumstances” and that the unjust nature of the agreement in light of those changes was sufficient to establish “hardship”. On appeal to the Full Court, Murphy and Austin JJ separately concluded that “exceptional circumstances” had been established but “hardship” had not been established. Aldridge J found that neither element had been established. The result was that the primary judge’s decision was overturned, despite the fact that the mother was living interstate and no longer had care of the subject child.

Did you know?

Making a Binding Child Support Agreement is one of the best ways to legally make sure that you only pay a fair and correct amount of child support. Furthermore, a private arrangement can create positive work incentives as each party is able to keep any extra income they make.

Child support law

Child support legislation

Commonwealth child support legislation is located on the Federal Register of Legislation website and can be accessed below:

Child Support Guide (policy)

The Child Support Guide provides a plain English explanation of child support policy and legislation and DHS staff in the Child Support department rely largely on this guide as their means of giving advice to you.

Child support in the media

2017.05.03 Ruined by child support: ‘My one night stand is still costing me’

2017.05.10 Dads the victims of child support laws? Give me a break

2018.02.12 Child support obligations: what you can do to reduce payments

2018.05.09 Media Release: More equitable child support

2018.05.26 Child support debts: record number of parents prevented from travelling overseas