HOW DO I CHANGE A CHILD SUPPORT ASSESSMENT?

Children running in front door of house with parents behind

Child Support Payments
Following separation, it is a statutory requirement that a parent must pay child support to the eligible carer of the parties’ children. Child support is payable until a child turns 18 years or completes secondary schooling (whichever is later). A formula is used by Services Australia (Child Support) to calculate the amount of child support that is to be paid. This formula factors in the adjusted taxable incomes of the parents, how much time each parent cares for the child, the child’s age and whether the liable parent has the care of any other dependants.

In certain cases, the assessment may be unfair or well off the mark due to particular circumstances arising). The Child Support (Assessment) Act 2018 allows parents to seek a review of their child support assessment through Services Australia or to apply to a Court to have the Child Support Assessment decision re-assessed based on ‘special circumstances’ (eg. something special or out of the ordinary). If the review is successful based on a departure ground, the amount of child support may be adjusted.

How do I change the Child Support Assessment?
To apply to change a child support assessment it is important to provide evidence in support of at least one of the ten reasons below.

Reason 1:
High costs of spending time with or communicating with the child.
If a parent incurs more costs because of the time spent with or communication with the child, then the assessment may be inaccurate and may need to be revised accordingly.

The relevant costs in spending time with or communicating with the child must be more than 5% of the adjusted taxable income that was used in the initial child support assessment and can include:

  • Transport costs;
  • Accommodation costs; or
  • Telephone costs.

It does not include:

  • Food;
  • Clothes; or
  • Entertainment.

If a parent cares for the child for 52 nights a year or more, then transport and travel are the only costs that can be considered under this reason. Other costs have already been considered in the initial assessment.

Reason 2:
High costs of the child’s special needs.
The child may have certain special needs that may require a higher assessment for Child Support. Special needs can include a physical, mental or learning disability but also a special talent or ability.

Examples of this may include a private tutor / therapist for a child with an ongoing learning disability or equipment or lessons for a child who is a gifted athlete and needs private coaching.

However, this cannot include any daily expenses like food, clothing or standard medical care nor any costs returned from rebates, refunds or allowances.

Reason 3:
High costs of the child’s specific care, education, or training that both parents intended for.
For example, if both parents agree that their child should attend a private school, the extra costs associated can be the basis for reviewing the child support assessment.

Reason 4:
The child’s income, earning capacity, property or financial resources.
In some special circumstances, if the child is earning or has enough money to require less from their parents, the child support assessment may be unfair.

This cannot include any Centrelink income support payments. This reason would be established in exceptional circumstances (eg. The child is a social media / actor / musician sports star).

Reason 5:
Prior payment or transfer of money, goods or property to the child.
If a parent has already paid money to or transferred goods or property to the child or to another party for the child’s benefit, the child support assessment may be unfair.

If a component of a property settlement involved a party receiving a higher proportion for the sake of raising or benefiting the child, then the assessment may need to be reviewed. This would not ordinarily cover an adjustment to a parent based on increased future needs as part of the property settlement deliberations. It would involve specific lump sum provision for the child’s maintenance.

Reason 6:
High childcare costs for children under 12 years of age.

  • A review can be sought if the childcare costs of raising a child that is under 12 years of age has been significantly affected and it amounts to either:
    More then 5% of the paying parent’s adjusted taxable income; or
  • At least 25% of the costs of the child (for non-parent carers).

Only actual costs can be claimed and cannot include any funds returned from rebates, refunds or other assistance.

Reason 7:
High necessary expenses that reduce capacity to support the child.
If a parent has necessary expenses that significantly reduces their ability to support the child then an explanation of why the costs are necessary and what makes them special must be provided.

Examples of this may include a parent suffering from an ongoing medical condition that requires higher medical costs.

Evidence required, for example:

  • Proof of income; or
  • Receipts of expenses, such as medical treatment etc.

Reason 8:
Higher income, earning capacity, property or financial resources.
If a parent’s financial resources, income and property is not accurately included in the child support assessment and a parent’s earning capacity is actually greater that what is shown, then the assessment may be unfair and a review may be sought.

If a review is sought on this basis, one must prove that the other party’s financial circumstances are not accurately reflected by their taxable income.

Lower income, earning capacity, property or financial resources.
If a parent’s income has dropped by 15% or more, an income estimate can be provided for the purpose of the child support assessment. If an income estimate cannot be lodged, then one needs to provide other reasons to justify a review taking place.

If Services Australia (Child Support) consider the assessment as unfair because of one or both of the parents’ income, earning capacity, property or financial resources, then it can change the assessment without a parent’s application though this would seldom happen in practice.

Reason 9:
Capacity to support the child is reduced because a parent is supporting another child/person.
If a parent has a duty to maintain another person or child, then a review may be sought.

An application can be made for one the following reasons:

  • A parent has a pre-existing duty to maintain another person or child;
  • That person or child has special needs; and
  • The costs of spending time with or communicating with that person or child reduces their capacity to support.

A review of this nature will not be facilitated if:

  • The child/person is already included in the assessment as a relevant dependant.
  • The dependant is a step child (see reason 10).

Reason 10:
Capacity to support the child is reduced because a parent is supporting another resident child.

If a parent supports another child that ordinarily resides with them, then this reason may apply. Services Australia (Child Support) requires that for this reason the child:

  • normally lives with the parent seeking the application;
  • is not legally the parent’s child;
  • is under 18 years of age;
  • is not part of a couple; and
  • requires financial assistance.

There are also additional requirements that:

  • The parent is or was a partner of one of the child’s legal parents for two consecutive years; and
  • The child’s legal parents cannot support the child because they are deceased, too ill or have other caring duties.

Notification of Decision for Reassessment

After an application for a child support departure has been submitted, Services Australia (Child Support) will provide both parents with a letter of their decision. The decision may:

  • Grant the re-assessment;
  • Change the assessment in the way requested; or
  • Change the assessment in another way different to the way requested.

It is important to note that the Applicant bears the onus in showing that a special circumstance exists and to establish one or more of the reasons.

The Registrar or Court must also consider whether changing the assessment would be ‘just and equitable’ and ‘otherwise proper’.

Child Support arrangements are often complex and every case is unique based on its own circumstances. Advice from an experienced family lawyer should be sought to advise you on the merits of pursuing a child support departure.

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