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What is child support?

The main aim of the child support system is to ensure that children of separated couples have financial support until they’re 18 years old.

It’s one way that the law tries to ensure the number one priority is the best interests of children.

Child Support

Child support is intended to assist parents with the cost of:

  • food;
  • housing;
  • clothes;
  • schooling; and
  • activities, such as sport.

Predicting your children’s future needs can be a challenging task. It’s even more complicated if you’ve separated from your partner and are trying to sort out child support.

Our team of family lawyers can help your children get the right support. They’ll guide you through the process and give you great advice.

Who can receive child support payments?

Anyone who is responsible for the care of a child can apply for child support.


Australian family law requires parents to support their children financially, even when the parents no longer live together and regardless of who is the primary carer. The law recognises that both parents should support their children. This is a type of child maintenance, more commonly known as child support.

Non-parent carers:

Anyone who is responsible for the care of a child can apply for child support, including non-parent carers such as grandparents. Adult children can apply for child support directly from their parent under limited circumstances: Independent Children’s Lawyer.

There’s a range of child support options:

  • You can reach a private agreement with the other parent; or
  • A court can make orders about child support; or
  • The Commonwealth Government’s Department of Human Services (DHS) can manage child support after it has made an assessment

DHS can enforce only child support agreements that are registered with DHS. For breach of a private agreement, you would need to apply for court enforcement orders.

Whichever avenue you choose, you’ll need legal advice.

Need advice? Just ask us a question

What’s involved in a child support assessment?

Child support assessments usually establish how much child support is payable. You must apply to DHS for an assessment.

DHS will consider:

  • The ages of the children
  • The income of each parent
  • The number of children for whom each parent has responsibility
  • The amount of time the children spend with each parent

It will then consider the expenses of each child including:

  • School expenses
  • Transport costs (including private car)
  • Child care payments
  • Medical and dental fees
  • Housing expenses (including rent and mortgage repayments)

DHS will weigh up these elements against the assets and liabilities (debts) of each parent and work out the amount of child support that should be paid, and by whom.

How much will I have to pay?

DHS has a child support calculator, which will provide you with an estimate about how much child support you may expect to pay or receive.

It’s important to understand that it may not be accurate. You can find the Child Support Estimator here.

Frequently asked questions

You can apply to DHS to amend it.

If you believe your child support assessment is unfair or based on information that has changed or was inaccurate, you can apply to DHS to amend it. For example, a person may have lost their job or have a fluctuating income, or the care arrangements for the child may have changed.

Usually, there are 28 days in which to make an objection to DHS about a child support decision. If you believe there’s a problem with your child support assessment, contact us urgently. We’ll advise you about the best and quickest way to challenge the decision.

If you have a Binding Child Support Agreement or a Limited Child Support Agreement, you’ll need to make an application to a court for enforcement orders. Contact us immediately if there’s any interruption to child support payments.

If DHS is to manage child support, the paying parent must set up a method of payment, usually weekly, fortnightly or monthly. The money goes to DHS and then it’s transferred to the receiving parent in regular payments, after the eighth day of each month.

If the other parent isn’t cooperating during this process, or there have been other issues in setting up child support payments, we can help.

Although child maintenance lasts only until the child is 18 years old, it’s possible to arrange or apply for child support payments for an adult child, especially if:

  • The child is yet to finish school
  • The child is continuing education at university, TAFE, or another institution
  • The child has a physical or mental disability and has ongoing needs for care and support

You can agree with your former partner about payment of adult child support, but for an agreement to be legally binding, you must have a court order that can be registered with DHS.

Many countries have reciprocal arrangements with Australia, allowing DHS to enforce child support arrangements, even if you or your former partner are living overseas. However, each country is different.

If there’s any chance that one party will live overseas, we recommend making child support arrangements through DHS. This may make enforcement much easier. Sometimes, DHS can take enforcement action against a party who is living in a country without a reciprocal arrangement with Australia.

DHS has special legal powers to recover child support from a person who defaults on their payment obligations. DHS has powers to:

  • Collect child support directly from the person’s employer
  • Withdraw money from their bank account
  • Use their tax refunds and any Centrelink benefits to pay down the debt
  • Stop them from leaving Australia until they’ve sorted out their child support debt

Other advantages of using DHS are:

  • Child support payments can commence, even when the parties can’t agree
  • Using a third party often reduces conflict and tension
  • You should contact DHS immediately if there’s any interruption to your child support payments.
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