When parents separate in Australia, the typical procedure involves the assessment and collection of child support through the Child Support Scheme, an integral component of the Commonwealth Department of Social Services. This arrangement is designed to ensure financial assistance for the well-being of the child post-separation.

In regards to child maintenance in Australia, a parent is required to provide financial support to their children until they reach the age of 18, which commonly signifies the conclusion of child maintenance obligation. However, circumstances may arise, such as a child continuing secondary school after turning 18, necessitating ongoing financial assistance. In these situations, a parent can petition the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia for a child maintenance order.

Child maintenance orders

Child Support administers the Child Support Scheme: the family courts’ role in determining financial support payable for children (including adult children) is limited. In cases where a parent seeks financial assistance for a child beyond the age of 18, they can approach the court for a child maintenance order under specific circumstances, including:

  1. where the child has a substantial physical or mental disability requiring ongoing care;
  2. when financial support is essential for the child to pursue their education

In such scenarios, children aged over 18 fall outside the scope of child support legislation, allowing family courts to issue a child maintenance order compelling a parent or stepparent to provide financial support. Notably, such an order can be mandated even if the paying parent lacks a past or anticipated future relationship with the child.

Who can apply for a child maintenance order?

In Australia, the process of seeking financial support for children following separation or divorce is facilitated through the child support system managed by the Department of Human Services. Different parties are eligible to apply for a child maintenance order, including:

  • Parents or legal guardians: Either parent or a legal guardian of a child can apply for a child maintenance order.
  • Non-parent carers: In some cases, non-parent carers who have primary responsibility for the day-to-day care of a child may also be eligible to apply for child support.
  • Grandparents: In certain circumstances, grandparents may be eligible to apply for child support if they have legal responsibility for the child or are caring for the child.
  • Non-parents with legal responsibility: Individuals with legal responsibility for the child, such as step-parents, may also be eligible to apply for child support in certain situations.

It is crucial for those considering such applications to seek legal guidance to navigate the complexities of the child maintenance process, tailored to their specific circumstances.

How do I apply for a child maintenance order?

When parents come to a mutual agreement regarding the stipulated child maintenance amount, they have the option to jointly apply to the court for a consent order to formalize the arrangement.

In instances where an agreement cannot be reached, one parent can initiate the process by preparing and submitting an application to the court. This application is then served to the other parent, who can respond by submitting their own documents and evidence to the court.

Both parents are obliged to provide comprehensive information pertinent to the assessment of their financial capabilities. This encompasses details of their income, savings, assets, and liabilities. Additionally, any financial resources, such as interests in companies, trusts, or other structures, must be disclosed.

For applications seeking child maintenance to support a child’s education, pertinent evidence includes details about the enrolled course, the child’s current progress, and academic results.

How much child maintenance is required?

The court holds discretionary power concerning child maintenance orders, and the determination of the required amount involves a comprehensive assessment.

In establishing the child maintenance figure, the court evaluates both parents’ income-earning capabilities, financial standings, and the child’s potential for employment, along with their essential expenses. Essential expenses encompass vital aspects like food, accommodation, transport, utilities, medical care, and educational needs. Generally, discretionary expenses such as holidays and entertainment are excluded from consideration.

In cases related to a child’s tertiary education, the court takes into consideration factors such as:

  1. the likelihood of the child’s continued academic success
  2. the potential hardship they would face if financial constraints compelled them to discontinue their studies

The financial contribution mandated from each parent is contingent upon their ability to contribute, and this payment can be structured as either installments or lump-sum payments. In instances where the receiving parent has encountered difficulties in obtaining child support previously, the court is inclined towards ordering lump sum payments.

How are child maintenance payments collected?

Following the issuance of child maintenance orders, the recipient parent is responsible for informing Child Support about the order. The recipient parent has the option to directly receive payments from the other parent, or Child Support can undertake the collection on behalf of the recipient parent.

When does the obligation to pay child maintenance end?

Typically, a child maintenance order designed to support a child during their tertiary education concludes upon the completion of the course. Those pursuing a child maintenance order are advised to explicitly state the expiration date within the sought order, as this end date is often delineated in the court-issued order.

Navigating child maintenance 

In navigating the complexities of child maintenance orders, it is crucial for parents to be well-informed about the legal processes involved. Amidst these intricate matters, seeking professional legal advice emerges as a pivotal step. Legal guidance not only ensures compliance with legal procedures but also empowers parents to make informed decisions that safeguard the best interests of the child.

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