09 Jun Child Support Agency – Payments, Reviews and Income Estimates
Many solicitors do not deal with child support issues as the Child Support Agency has its own separate legislation and child support objections and other options are generally dealt with by the Child Support Agency itself. There are a few issues that need to be dealt with by the court such as paternity but the majority of problems with child support are dealt with internally by the Child Support Agency and/or through the Social Security Appeals Tribunal (SSAT).
Surprisingly, we note that some of our clients have received incorrect legal advice about child support issues, for example, that only the parent with the care of the child/ren can ask for a child support assessment to be registered. This is incorrect and either parent can apply for an assessment. It is simply a common practice for the parent with the child/ren to make that application and it is not common for a paying parent to request this. Additionally, if grandparents have the care of the child/ren they can request the registration of an assessment, claiming against both biological parents for child support payments to assist them in caring for and maintaining the children.
There is a lot of information on the Child Support website which is currently under the Department of Human Services. For example if the income used in the current assessment is higher than the paying parent is currently earning (has to be at least a 15% difference in the incomes used in the assessment), that parent can lodge an “Estimate” with Child Support over the telephone and seek to have the matter reassessed on the current income.
Additionally if you think the paying parent is currently earning more than the assessed amount you can initiate a review of the current assessment. There is a specific form for this purpose providing a list of reasons under which you can have the matter reviewed. The initiating party has to lodge the completed form with the Child Support Agency and then the Agency will forward a copy of that to the other party and they will be invited to respond. Once that response is received the parties are generally interviewed by telephone and the Case Officer will make a decision shortly thereafter. If you think that decision is unreasonable in the circumstances or that certain matters were not taken into account, you can request an internal review of that decision. If you believe, and have specific grounds for that belief, that the decision is still incorrect you can progress the matter to the SSAT.
Child Support Agreements are often used in Family Law proceedings with respect to children and property matters where they are often annexed to, or part of, final consent orders. There are two types of agreement: limited and binding. A limited agreement lasts for 3 years and should be reviewed after that time and a binding agreement lasts until the child turns 18.
A lot of paying parents like to have an agreement in place because it gives them a bit of control about how the money is spent, for example, the agreement may provide for the paying parent to pay school fees direct to the children’s school rather than to the other parent. There are a few pitfalls to watch out for when a solicitor drafts these types of agreements. Mostly these are in relation to binding agreements because they cover the children until they turn 18 years of age. Specifically you should include a clause to take account of any substantial change in the paying parent’s earning capacity such as being incapacitated from an accident or illness. Additionally, if there is more than one child you will need to include a clause that when the eldest child turns 18 the amount of child support paid will reduce given that there is now one less child subject to the agreement. This may sound obvious but it is surprising how often these issues arise.