There are 3 ways in which parties can arrange child support matters following a separation involving children. They are:
- via an “administrative assessment” which is conducted by the Child Support Agency;
- via a child support agreement;
- via an informal agreement between the parents.
Each is explained below.
The Child Support (Assessment) Act enables parents to apply to the Child Support Agency to have an administrative assessment. This assessment is made by the Registrar and is issued to the parents. The assessment basically informs the parents how much child support is payable. The assessment is based on a prescribed formula which takes into account the number of children, both parents’ income and a number of other factors, including the level of care each parent has of the children. The Agency will only commence the assessment process once an application is made. The Agency cannot force parents to make an application however the Family Assistance Office usually require parents to apply for Child Support prior to receiving single parent government benefits.
Once issued, the amount payable under the administrative assessment is enforceable by the Child Support Registrar against the liable parent.
The assessment is reviewed should circumstances change, say if a parent’s income increases or decreases significantly or if there is a change in parenting arrangements. It can also be reviewed if the assessment has not taken into consideration other factors which are relevant to the assessment. Parents can apply for a change of assessment and ask for a review of their current assessment. Contact us if you are having issues with the Child Support Agency or you think that there ought to be a variation to the current assessment to discuss your options.
A Child Support Agreement
The second way parents can arrange their child support affairs is by agreement. There are two types of agreements, namely:
- a binding agreement; and
- a limited agreement.
A binding child support agreement replaces an assessment and is usually unable to be changed in the absence of further agreement, or unless the Court sets the agreement aside. This type of agreement is enforceable, periodic payments usually being enforced by the Child Support Registrar and other types of payments (such as school fees) are enforceable by the Court. These agreements need to be drafted appropriately by a solicitor and both parents require independent legal advice prior to signing these agreements.
Setting the binding agreements aside can be expensive and not guaranteed (ie. it is a matter of discretion for the Court) so a binding agreement is the most secure way of permanently “locking in” child support arrangements.
A limited child support is far easier to set aside should either parent’s income change. Limited agreements can also be terminated by either party after 3 years.
In some cases parents simply enter into an informal arrangement based on mutual trust regarding what child support they will provide for their children. Such agreements are unenforceable and are also not usually recognised by the agency if there is insufficient evidence of support being paid.
Written by Hayley Williams