Child Support Agreements

Date: Aug 01, 2010
Document Type: Article

The Child Support Agency is part of the Commonwealth Department of Family and Community Services.

The Agency’s role is to:

·       ensure children and parents receive the financial support they require in a consistent, regular and reasonable way and

·       encourage parties to take control of their circumstances by entering into a Child Support Agreement .

If parties do not reach agreement on child support arrangements, an administrative assessment will be made; that is, the government decides how much each party must pay or receive.

The best way to avoid this and take control of your child support arrangements is to enter into a Child Support Agreement.

Child Support Agreements

A child support agreement covers the financial obligations in providing for children following the breakdown of a marriage. A Child Support Agreement must:
  • be written and signed by the parties
  • set out how much and when child support is to be paid.
  • be lodged with the Child Support Agency on the approved form.

These requirements are mostly procedural and do not regulate the contents of the agreement. Parties have a degree of freedom to choose how they wish to organise their affairs. Provided the application for acceptance is properly made, the Registrar must accept the child support agreement which then overrides any administrative assessment made by the Department.

The Child Support Agency recommends that parties entering into a Child Support Agreement seek legal advice prior to finalising the agreement, because once an agreement is accepted by the Child Support Registrar it is equivalent to a Court Order and is very difficult to vary.

For example, it may not be varied by a Child Support Senior Case Officer or any other department official. If you wish to change the agreement without going to Court, you must enter a new agreement – and this may not be possible if the other party is happy with the first outcome.

Agreements can run for up to 18 years (the longest period that a person is legally a child). Careful consideration needs to be given to the terms of any agreement. Expert legal advice can help you ensure that the best interests of both you and your children are met by covering all essential points and incorporating, where relevant, provisions for more complex factors such as unemployment and inflation.

Things that can be included in a Child Support Agreement

Although you are free to deal with your arrangements as you please, some points are generally recommended for consideration in most agreements:

  • Each child should be considered separately, and collective terms such as "the children" should be avoided. This provides the maximum flexibility to ensure the agreement can operate should your circumstances, or those of your children, change.
  • You should consider what should happen if the child support payer suffers a loss or reduction in income.
  • Contingencies should be included if parts of the agreement are not performed by either party.
  • A start and end date can assist to avoid problems in reaching agreement years into the future to end an agreement.
  • It is wise to establish how payment is to be made, i.e. cheque, EFT or other arrangement.

Do you really need a lawyer?

You may not need to have a lawyer at your side from start to finish in the process. There are however good reasons for obtaining legal advice before you complete the agreement.

The Child Support Agency will not assist you to draft your agreement. However, there is a template agreement form that can provide some guidance. Everyone's circumstances are different and this guidance is only very general.

Agreements are binding and legally enforceable, and the law grants freedom to the parties to agree as they choose.

Making the right choices is therefore crucial. A Court will not come to your assistance simply because you later change your mind.

A Court does have the power to end an agreement, but only in particular circumstances (such as birth of a new child, unforeseen illness or disability, special needs of the child, and substantial decrease in income).

Conclusion

Child Support Agreements provide the opportunity for a child's parents to decide what arrangements should be made for the upbringing of a child, and avoid the need for Departmental assessment and enforcement of obligations.

Before finalising an Agreement, you should obtain expert legal advice.
Contact our Managing Partner, Dominic Wilson on (02) 8268 4000 or by email at craddock@craddock.com.au for friendly professional service.  Dominic will refer you to one of our Accredited Specialist Family Lawyers.
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