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What is child support?

Child support is a payment paid by parents to help financially support the day to day expenses for a child under the age of 18. Child support is managed by Services Australia (Child Support) which is a Commonwealth Government agency.

When parties separate, parents have a legal obligation to support their child financially, including:

  • A biological child;
  • An adopted child;
  • A stepchild (but only if a court order says they have an obligation to support the child);
  • A child from an artificial conception if the parents were married or in a de facto relationship at the time of conception and both consented to the artificial conception procedure;
  • A child from a surrogacy arrangement.

A person who looks after a child but is not the child’s parent, may also be eligible for child support from either one or both of the child’s legal parents.

How is child support calculated?

Services Australia uses a formula to calculate the amount of child support to be paid which is based on a number of factors, including how many children there are; the children’s ages; each parent’s income; the amount a parent needs to support themselves and how much time each parent spends caring for the children. The formula will also take into account if a parent is receiving child support from previous partners, or if a parent has a new family to support. Information about the child support scheme can be found on the Services Australia (Child Support) website – Parent’s guide to child support.

Do I need to pay child support once my child turns 18?

Under the Services Australia (Child Support) scheme, child support is payable until a child turns 18 or until they complete their secondary schooling, whichever occurs last.

In some circumstances, child support may be required for a child over the age of 18 known as adult child maintenance. Applications for adult child maintenance are not managed by Services Australia, but rather are made to the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia. The Court can make an order for a parent to pay maintenance for a child over the age of 18 in some limited circumstances. Parents seeking financial support for an adult child should seek advice from an experienced family lawyer as to their rights and/or obligations.

What expenses is child support intended to cover?

Child support payments are intended to cover all of the child’s day to day expenses, including school fees, excursions, uniforms, extracurricular activities and medical expenses. It is also intended to meet necessities such as food, clothing and assisting with housing costs such as rent, electricity and water.

However, in relation to school fees, an assessment of Services Australia factors in the costs of a chid attending a state school, not a private school.

If a child attends a private school or has other high costs due to special needs say for education or medical reasons, the parent with care of the child may apply to the Court for a departure order from the administrative assessment of Services Australia to take into account the more expensive costs for a child.

Parents may also enter into their own private agreements to pay child support independently of the administrative assessment.

What is a Binding Child Support Agreement?

A binding child support agreement is a complex enforceable contract between parents who have come to an agreement on the payment of child support for a child. The agreement can provide for payments such as:

  • A fixed payment of child support (periodic payment) each week which can be less or more than an administrative assessment;
  • A lump sum payment which may be credited against ongoing expenses for a child;
  • Non-periodic payments such as:
    • Child care costs;
    • Private school fees, and other school associated costs such as books, laptops and uniforms;
    • Extracurricular activities that the agree for the child to participate in;
    • Medical expenses for the child such as private health insurance and any gap payments associated with medical and dental treatments for the child.

To enter into a binding child support agreement, both parents must agree on the terms of the agreement, and each parent must receive their own independent legal advice before signing the agreement. The agreement is drafted by one of the parties’ legal practitioners, and the legal practitioners for each party must also sign a declaration that their client received legal advice before entering into the agreement.

Once signed, the agreement becomes legally enforceable and is often provided to Services Australia (Child Support) to administer. Parties who are bound by a binding child support agreement will not be able to make any subsequent application to Services Australia for a child support assessment unless the agreement specifically allows for that to occur.

Given the legally binding nature of a child support agreement, it is important parents seek expert family law advice before deciding whether to enter into an agreement, and whether it will meet their needs, and those of their child.

The family law team at Gordon Legal can provide advice regarding child support options, including assisting parents with an administrative assessment from Services Australia and entering into binding child support agreements.


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