When parents separate, they are required to make financial arrangements for the care, welfare and development of their children until they reach the age of 18. This is referred to as ‘child support’. Parents can agree to their own arrangements – in terms of both the amounts to be paid and how the payment will be made – or they can apply to the Child Support Agency for assistance. However, it is advisable that any private agreement for child support is recorded in writing, dated and signed by both parents.
Who pays child support?
Both biological parents of a child have a duty to provide financial support for the care, welfare and development of the child. This is so even if the parents were never in a relationship. It is the parent who has the smaller role in daily care of the children of the relationship that is required to pay child support. The amount of child support that is paid can change depending on the number of nights the child/children spend with either parent and their financial means. There is a formula that the Child Support Agency uses to calculate the amount. The payment is made either directly or through the Child Support Agency.
The Child Support Agency assesses the amount that a parent has to pay as child support in accordance with the Child Support (Assessment) Act 1989. Assistance in collection and payment of child support is provided by the Agency under the terms of the Child Support (Registration and Collection) Act 1988.
Even if the amount and form of the payments is agreed privately between the parties, the arrangement can still be registered with the Child Support Agency for assistance with enforcement and collection, although there is no requirement that it must be.
Collection of child support
Collection of child support can be arranged privately or through the Child Support Agency. If payment is arranged through the Child Support Agency, the Agency will collect the amount payable from the payer parent and forward it to the payee parent.
If a valid private agreement is registered with the Agency, the Agency will collect child support in accordance with the terms of the agreement rather than its own assessment.
The Child Support Agency has powerful methods for extracting payments from payer parents who are failing to meet their child support obligations, including by applying to a court for an order for wage garnishment (mandatory deduction from wages), or for seizure and sale of property. Unpaid child support collects as a legal debt owed to the payee parent by the payer parent (provided there is a registered child support arrangement in force).
Assessing the amount of child support
A parent can apply to the Child Support Agency for an assessment of the parties’ circumstances and to determine the amount that the parent with the smaller role in child-caring must contribute to the care of the child.
The Agency makes its assessment based on a legislative formula. The formula takes into consideration each parent’s income, the number of children, living expenses of the parents, the living arrangements of the children, and any other children in the liable parent’s care.
Parties with a child support assessment should let the Child Support Agency know if their financial or domestic circumstances, or the circumstances of the other parent, change. The changes could affect the amount of child support payable.