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The Consequences of Failing to Pay Child Support

Child support is the means by which money changes hands relative to the financial needs of a child. In some instances it is determined by agreement between separated parents, more often by application of a child support formulae administered by the Child Support Agency (“CSA”) (which is within the Federal Department of Human Services) and very occasionally by Order of the Court. 

A recent article by the Courier Mail highlights however that nationally more than a billion dollars is owed in child support payments, $287 million of which is owed by Queenslanders.

There is a clear means by which an assessment made by the Agency can be challenged if premised on incorrect information. Accordingly if no challenge is made, or the assessment upheld after a challenge, then the presumption is that the support is properly payable and any failure to pay is deliberate and actionable. 

The Federal Government, through the Department of Human Services, can enforce payments in a variety of ways.  Some of these methods include:

  • Employer Deductions The Department can ask employers to make employer deductions from an employees pay to account for money owed. In these situations the employer will make child support deductions directly from a parents pay to the Department.
  • Taxation Deductions  All child support parents are required to lodge a tax return unless they are exempt by the Australian Taxation Office (ATO). This allows the ATO to update the Department of Human Services on each parent’s income, and ensure that his or her assessments are correct. Furthermore, the ATO advises the Department before paying out a tax refund to eligible child support parents. The Department may take this refund to meet outstanding support payments. By intercepting tax refunds $116 million in owed payments were recovered  by the Agency in 2013.
  • Travel Restrictions.   The Department of Human Services is able to issue a Departure Prohibition Order against parents that are planning on travelling outside of Australia, have outstanding child support payments owed, and are refusing to make those payments. This order prohibits the person from leaving Australia until the order is lifted. The order is lifted once the overdue child support is paid, or a satisfactory payment plan has been arranged. Such an order does not require court approval to issue. Last year $7 million in outstanding child support was paid due to Departure Prohibition Orders.
  • Court Related Remedies.  As a last resort, the Department can seek a court order to collect outstanding payments. Last year $4 million worth of property was seized as a result of court orders.  The Department may also initiate criminal proceedings where there is evidence of criminal fraud, or other criminal activities by one parent in relation to child support payments.

Human Services Minister Marise Payne has stressed that in a most cases parents do the right thing by their children and pay what is required of them but that reminds Australian parents that “It’s not acceptable for parents to actively avoid their child support responsibilities. There are no winners and often it is their own children who suffer as a result.”

Best Wilson Buckley Family Law is able to assist both liable and recipient parents in relation to difficulties with an Assessment,  enforcement of debt or the decision to reach an agreement outside of the formula. Contact our office in Toowoomba by phoning (07) 4639 0000 or Brisbane on (07) 3210 0281, or email us at [email protected].