In Australia, child support is primarily regulated by the Child Support (Assessment) Act 1989 and is administered by the Department of Human Services through the Child Support Agency (CSA). When circumstances change, either parent can request a reassessment of the child support payments. The court's involvement typically comes in when there's a dispute that can't be resolved through the CSA or when parents seek orders outside the usual administrative assessment.
Departure Orders: The court has the power to make a 'departure order' to change the child support amount assessed by the CSA. A departure order allows for a change in child support payments based on special circumstances, such as the high costs of child contact or the special needs of the child. Parents can apply for this order if they believe the assessment doesn't reflect the true costs of raising their child or if the assessment is unjust or inequitable.
Child Support Agreements: Parents can enter into two types of child support agreements: Binding Child Support Agreements and Limited Child Support Agreements. The court has the power to set aside or change these agreements in certain circumstances, such as cases of fraud, changes in circumstances since the agreement was made, or if the application of the agreement would result in hardship.
Orders Outside Administrative Assessment: In some situations, parents can apply directly to the court for orders about child support without going through the administrative assessment process. Such orders can address matters like periodic payments, lump-sum payments, or transfer of property.
Enforcement: If a parent fails to comply with their child support obligations, the court has the power to enforce those obligations, ensuring the parent meets their financial responsibilities towards their child.
Appeals and Reviews: If a parent disagrees with a decision made by the CSA or the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT), they can appeal to the court. However, generally, this can only be done on points of law.
Ensuring the Best Interests of the Child: The guiding principle for courts in family law matters, including child support, is the best interests of the child. This principle empowers the court to make orders ensuring children receive the financial support necessary for their well-being.
In conclusion, while the CSA primarily handles child support assessments, the court retains significant powers to intervene and adjust child support obligations. Whether through departure orders, setting aside agreements, or directly mandating support, the court's overriding concern is to ensure the child's best interests are met. Parents should always consider seeking legal advice when contemplating any changes to child support arrangements.