As countless Australians face issues with their employment status amidst the COVID-19 crisis, their ability to pay child support and appropriate financial maintenance may be adversely affected. As such, this financial uncertainty can be even more challenging for separated families that are subject to court ordered obligations with respect to child support, or have private child support agreements in place. The following blog has been prepared as an informative guide for those who are navigating issues which arise in relation to child support amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.
How can I get child support?
If you have children and are separated and struggling to meet your children’s daily living expenses, but do not have a child support arrangement in place, we recommend that you make an Application for Child Support to the Department of Human Services’ Child Support Agency (‘CSA’) as a single parent.
Once you have lodged your Application with the CSA, you will receive an administrative assessment on the amount of child support you are eligible to receive. The CSA bases its assessment on your taxable income, the other parent’s taxable income, the number of children you have and their ages, the number of nights you each spend with the children and whether you or the other parent have any other dependents in your care.
If you are the primary carer of the children and earning less than your partner, you will likely be entitled to receive a payment from the other parent to assist you in meeting the children’s daily living expenses. Child Support usually only covers the children’s essential costs, including food, housing, some educational costs and clothing and can often be insufficient.
Do I still get child support in these circumstances?
Australian Government services are receptive to the changing situation of many Australians. If you have a child support assessment and your situation has changed, it is important to notify government services with the appropriate information regarding:
- Any decrease in your income
- Whether your income has increased, and you’ve recently estimated your income for child support
- Whether any factor with respect to the care of your child has changed.
This information will allow Government Services to make a correct assessment with respect to your child support situation. There is also a Child Support Assessment Calculator available to determine your revised income here: https://processing.csa.gov.au/estimator/About.aspx
What happens if I cannot pay child support anymore?
With many Australians experiencing employment difficulties such as redundancy, being laid off, and working less hours, those who are legally obligated to make child support payments will undoubtedly be experiencing financial distress due to a decline in their discretionary income. This renders it challenging, if not impossible, to satisfy all expenses in full and on time.
In the event that you are unable to pay child support, an important place to start is engaging in transparent and honest communication with your ex-partner. It may be that both parties are able to reach an interim agreement between themselves regarding providing financial support on a short term basis. If this is the case, it may be most appropriate to contact a lawyer who can codify that agreement into the appropriate legal document.
If you are not in regular contact with your ex-partner, or cannot find a resolution to the inability to meet child support payments, obtaining appropriate legal advice may lead to an interim financial agreement being presented in the hopes that an agreement can be reached. As a last resort, urgent court intervention may compel or reduce regular payments for a period of time. The Family Court is still operating remotely and is utilising video conferencing to hear disputes, however priority is being given to urgent matters and non-urgent matters are being adjourned until later in the year.
If you and your partner have separated, another avenue which you may be able to explore during this time to assist with cash flow is seeking spousal maintenance from your former partner. Spousal maintenance is financial support paid by a party to a marriage or de facto relationship to their former partner in circumstances where they are unable to adequately support themselves. Pursuant to the Family Law Act 1975, a person has a responsibility to financially assist their spouse or former de facto partner if that person cannot meet their own reasonable expenses from their personal income.
Where one party can show they have a need for financial assistance, the other party has a duty to support and maintain the other as far as they can. This obligation can continue even after separation and divorce. However, the extent to the support is dependent on whether the other party can afford to pay.
To determine whether one party has a need for spousal maintenance and the other party has a capacity to pay, each party should complete a Family Court document called a ‘Financial Statement’. This can be accessed from the Family Court website. In the Financial Statement, you must list all your assets, liabilities, income and expenses on a weekly basis. You must also complete Part N of the document which sets out all of your expenses per week for yourself and the children, if any. If your Financial Statement demonstrates that your expenditure exceeds your income, you will be able to show that you have a need for spousal maintenance. Similarly, if your partner can show that their expenditure is less than the income they earn, it will demonstrate an ability to pay you spousal maintenance for a period of time.
The Courts do not grant orders in relation to spousal maintenance for lengthy periods of time. Depending on the parties’ circumstances, people can receive spousal maintenance for between 3 to 12 months. This additional income by way of spousal maintenance payments could be very useful in the interim, until businesses resume as normal and there is greater stability in employment and the economy at large.
Am I still eligible for Family Tax Benefits?
The COVID-19 Pandemic may also impact on your Family Tax Benefit if your family income changes, or your child is over 16 and cannot study. Indeed, your family income estimate affects the benefit you receive, so if you or your partner stop work, it is important to update your income estimate accordingly. More information regarding this can be found on the Australian Government Services website:
Nicholes Family Lawyers understands that the financial challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic are unprecedented and challenging. We are available to advise in relation to child support matters on 9670 4122, should you require legal assistance regarding your child support arrangement.