For those who are newly divorced with children, understanding how to collect a child support payment can seem like an overly complex and confronting issue. It can be, but it’s also true that it doesn’t have to be. Some parents who pay child support pay it gladly and with whatever (legal) means necessary to help their children. Some parents, though, fight or duck, avoid and blame however they can so that they don’t have to pay.
This is a complex area of family law. There’s no doubt about it. Generally, the child support payment that parents are obliged to pay is calculated according to a formula set out by the Child Support Agency which since 2011 has come under the banner of the Department of Human Services. The Department of Human Services delivers its services through a portfolio of two organisations and three departmental master programs, of which Child Support is one of the master programs. However, apart from this, it is also possible for separated couples to enter into their own legally binding agreements about exactly how much the child support payment will be from one parent to the other. The two parents just need to come to an agreement.
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Child Support Agreement
There are two ways you can document a child support agreement – either by a Limited Child Support Agreement or a Binding Child Support Agreement. Agreements are best made after taking into account the specific needs of each child as well as the circumstances of each parent. This will vary from parent to parent and may also may be revised over time depending on changing or unchanging circumstances. Life can sometimes be unpredictable and the needs of the children can vary.
Child Support Payment
The actual child support payment then goes through privately or through the Department of Human Services (DHS). Collecting the child support payment privately (often directly into a bank account) really only works well when both parents stay on top of tax returns and advise the DHS of any changed circumstances. If any part of this arrangement starts to falter from what you both decided originally, then you really should seek legal advice immediately. This might include having payments made that are getting behind, or disagreeing on the amount that needs to be paid.
Payments that go through the DHS have been either administratively assessed (using the formula approved under Australian law) or you have registered with them to collect for you according to your child support agreement. Payments though the DHS are also re-assessed at least every 15 months or for a shorter period, depending on the family’s circumstances.
If a parent is not making payments and there is an outstanding debt, then the DHS may take the parent to court. This is often only after other means of enforcing collection have not been satisfactory. This government body does have quite extensive powers when it comes to child support collection, including being able to arrange salary deductions.
It can be a lot harder to collect child support privately if communication and good-will sour. It becomes your burden to recover the outstanding money from the paying parent yourself in this situation.
Being incorrectly assessed can lead to trouble on both sides of the fence. For some, if their income has been incorrectly assessed at a higher level, then they may have trouble paying their child support payment. For others – often those who are self-employed – they are not paying what they could because they’re declaring lower taxable incomes. Jayne Ford, the Child Support Program manager from Victoria Legal Aid said that most of the parents applying to change the child support amount they received were women who argued their self-employed ex-partners could afford to pay more. They can legitimately declare lower taxable incomes, “but their business might be rolling over quite a lot of money and they might have other resources,” she said. “They’re certainly able to pay more child support and the bottom line is that the children are missing out and not being adequately supported.”
The increasingly important part of child support assessment is proof of parentage. The DHS will only issue a child support assessment if the paying parent can be proven to be the child’s biological or adoptive parent. DNA testing may be a step in this process, as well as taking court action. This is all covered by Australian law. If you’re in a situation where you’re not sure if you’re the parent, then you can ask for proof of parentage.
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In Colorado, things seem to work a little differently. Chris Atkins has had a DNA test to prove that the daughter he is paying child support for is not, in fact, his daughter. And yet he still has to pay child support because his name is on the birth certificate.
It was not until the girl was 11 years old that he found out she was not his daughter. The girl is now 15 years old and he still thinks of her as his daughter, but despite custody orders is prevented from seeing her. He is legally required to pay $730 a month for her welfare although he finds this harsh considering she is now in contact with her biological father who is not required to pay child support.
If you have child support needs to be addressed or wish to speak to a professional about your child support obligation, then please contact us today. Our experienced family lawyers can offer you a free, 10-minute phone consultation.