What are my Options with Child Support?

If you have recently separated and you and your former partner have children, you may be thinking about whether you are entitled to receive child support from your former partner, or alternatively, whether you are obliged to pay child support to them.

There are a few options when it comes to child support. You can come to a self-managed agreement, get a child support assessment, and/or enter into a binding or limited child support agreement.

This article will provide you with an overview of your options when it comes to child support, what child support is designed to cover and how our expert team of family lawyers can assist.

Self-managed child support

Self-managed child support is the term given to a child support arrangement that is informally agreed upon by you and your former partner. This means that you have a verbal or handshake agreement about who is to pay who, how much is to be paid, when payments are to be made and what payments are to cover.

If you and your former partner can come to an arrangement that you are both happy with and agree is fair, this could be a good option for you. However, you need to remember that since it is not a formal agreement, it isn’t legally binding.

Child support assessment

If you and your former partner aren’t able to reach an agreement between yourselves about how much child support is a fair and reasonable amount, or if you just aren’t sure how to work out how much is a fair amount, you can apply for a child support assessment.

This can be done through the Child Support Agency. They also have a child support estimator, which you can use to get an approximate idea of how much child support might need to be paid, and by whom.

When calculating who will pay child support and how much is to be paid, the Child Support Agency uses a formula based on Australian law (the Child Support Assessment Act 1989 (Cth)). They consider factors such as individual and combined income, how much time each parent spends caring for the child(ren) and the child(ren)’s age.

As a rule of thumb, you will be entitled to receive child support if your percentage of care of the child is more than your percentage share of your and your partner’s combined income. Conversely, if your percentage of the care of the child is less than your percentage share of the combined income, you will most likely have to pay child support.

A parent can in certain circumstances apply to the Family Court for a departure from a child support assessment. These circumstances include examples such as if the child has special needs, if there are significant costs associated with a parent spending time with the child or if there are other necessary commitments of either parent.

So, what does child support cover?

If you get a child support assessment, the amount calculated will be based on the costs of maintaining a child of your child’s age. This includes things like food, housing, clothes, and costs associated with your child’s schooling. There is however no set list of what assessed child support is meant to cover.

If you want to have a binding agreement that covers expenses such as private school fees, private health insurance, or other significant expenses such as orthodontics, or if you want a binding agreement for a parent to pay more child support than the assessed amount, you will need to enter into a binding child support agreement or a limited child support agreement with the other parent.

Both binding child support agreements and limited child support agreements allow parents flexibility in setting out what child support is to cover, when payments are to be made and how payments are to be made. These two types of agreements are discussed below.

Binding child support agreement

A binding child support agreement is essentially a formal contract between you and your former partner about how much child support is to be paid, when payments are to be made and what payments are to cover.

You don’t have to get a child support assessment done to enter into a binding child support agreement, but you do both have to obtain independent legal advice and have the agreement signed by your lawyers for the agreement to be binding.

Limited child support agreement

To make a limited child support agreement you do not need to get legal advice. You do, however, need to undergo a child support assessment. The Child Support Agency will only accept your limited child support agreement if the amount of child support to be paid is equal to, or more than, the annual assessment amount.

Unlike binding child support agreements, limited child support agreements can be terminated by either parent in the following circumstances:

  1. if the amount of child support that would be paid under a child support assessment through the Child Support Agency changes by more than 15%; or
  2. after three years.

To compare the above, a limited child support agreement requires certain circumstances so as to be able to be made and can be terminated more easily than a binding child support agreement. A limited child support agreement does not however require independent legal advice to be binding.

This article was written by Jacqueline Brown and first published on the Lynn & Brown website

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This article does not constitute legal advice or a legal opinion on any matter discussed and, accordingly, it should not be relied upon. It should not be regarded as a comprehensive statement of the law and practice in this area. If you require any advice or information, please speak to practicing lawyer in your jurisdiction. No individual who is a member, partner, shareholder or consultant of, in or to any constituent part of Legally Yours Pty Ltd accepts or assumes responsibility, or has any liability, to any person in respect of this article.

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