How is child support decided?

There are two ways your child support payments can be decided, depending on when your child was born or when you separated.

1. If your child was born and you separated before 1 October 1989, the Family Law Act applies

2. If you separated after 1 October 1989, or your child was born after that date the Child Support (Assessment) Act applies

Under either system the Child Support Agency can arrange to collect child support for you :-

a) Through the courts (separation before 1 October 1989)

Under this system the Family Court or the Magistrates' Court decides how much child support should be paid. The amount is up to the Court, taking into account the child's needs and each parent's ability to contribute to those needs.

Either parent can apply to change the amount of maintenance if their financial position changes. If you want to base changes solely on a change in the cost of living, you must wait until at least a year after the last payment order was made.

b) The Child Support Agency (separation after October 1989)

The Child Support Agency, a branch of the Australian Taxation Office, can decide how much should be paid for child support and collect it automatically.

The money is passed onto the parent who is looking after the child by Centrelink.

Payments change automatically each year, based on taxation records. If there are major changes in your financial situation, you can ask for reassessment.


You can work outside the formal assessment formulae by making an agreement between the person with whom the children live and the parent or parents paying maintenance. The parent with whom the children live must agree to this arrangement. If you are receiving payments you can still ask the Child Support Agency to accept the agreement and collect the payments, as a way of making sure the agreement is kept.

To do this, the agreement must be in writing and signed, and has to follow the guidelines set out in the Child Support (Assessment) Act 1989. Once the Agency accepts an agreement, it has the force of a Court Order.

If the child or children live with you and you also receive a Centrelink Sole Parent Pension, you must have your payment agreement checked as a safeguard.

For further information contact one of our family lawyers today.

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