Family law can include a range of issues. From dividing the assets (property settlement) to working out where children will live (parenting arrangements) to spouse maintenance and then to child support. There is a difference between maintenance and support for a spouse, and the financial support of children after separation.
When I see a client for the first time, I often say, “let’s put the issues into separate boxes and deal with them one by one”:
- Box 1 – property settlement
- Box 2 – parenting arrangements
- Box 3 – spouse maintenance
- Box 4 – child support
Box 4 – child support. In my experience most family lawyers want to avoid the child support agency (Services Australia) and the child support legislation (Child Support (Assessment) Act 1989). Don’t get me wrong, we have the knowledge necessary to give clients legal advice, but for some clients, having to deal with the agency is a mine field. For others, it is the best way forward to manage the child support arrangements for their family. I certainly recommend that clients research Services Australia’s website (child support agency) for the wealth of information it provides to parents. The most commonly recommended tool for my clients is the online child support estimator (calculator).
Where parents are amicable and want to negotiate the parenting arrangements and child support payments for their children, the estimator is a great guide to the amount the agency might assess one parent to pay in child support to the other parent. No formal application for an assessment is required. The estimated amount of child support can provide parents with a starting point for their negotiations. Bear in mind when privately negotiating the amount of child support to be paid, an assessment rarely covers the costs associated with raising children.
If parents are negotiating a higher amount of child support than what is or would be assessed, the first step in the process is to calculate your children’s expenses. Look at school fees, books and uniforms, tutoring costs, sport and other activities, private health insurance and dental costs etc. Food and clothing in each household is not generally included in this budget. Once this step is complete, consider each parent’s incomes and their ability to contribute to expenses.
Of course, each family is different, but a very simple way to ensure your children do not suffer as a result of their parent’s separation is to do the best they can to maintain their lifestyle, education and routine. To minimise the impact of the separation on them. For me keeping a joint account and depositing an agreed monthly amount into that account allowed our children’s expenses to be paid easily and without issue. If ‘top ups’ were required, this was calculated and divided between us. This does require a level of trust and an ability to communicate with each other.
There are other families where a more formal private arrangement is necessary. A private arrangement can be formalised through a Binding Child Support Agreement (BCSA). In this situation both parents must have independent legal advice.
Where parents cannot, for whatever reason privately negotiate, making an application for a child support assessment is the most practical and effective way to ensure both parents are financially supporting their children after separation. The payee (parent receiving child support) can elect to have the agency collect the child support from the other parent. If an assessment issues from the child support agency, the paying parent is only required at law to pay that specified amount.
The point being made, child support shouldn’t be a forgotten issue to talk to your family lawyer about.