In Australia, a parent’s duty to maintain their children occurs through child support payments.
A parent, if assessed as needing to pay child support, is required to maintain the child from the date of the assessment by the Department of Human Services (Department) until the child turns 18.
There are some exceptions which apply as to when you are required to pay child support, which this article will explore.
When can I stop paying child support?
A child will be considered eligible to receive child support until a “terminating event” occurs. A terminating event includes the following:
- The child dies
- The child turns 18
- The child marries or becomes a member of a couple
There are exceptions to the above.
Can I stop paying child support if my child has finished High School?
If the child is still completing their high school when they turn 18, the parent receiving child support can apply to receive child support until the child has completed high school.
Can I stop paying child support if my child marries or becomes a member of a couple?
If a child marries or becomes a member of a couple, the parent paying child support is able to cease payments.
A member of a couple means:
- a person who is legally married to another person and is not living separately and apart from the other person on a permanent or indefinite basis
- a person who is living with another person as the partner of the other person on a genuine domestic basis (even if not legally married to the other person)
- a person whose relationship with another person (whether of the same sex or a different sex) is registered under a law of a State or Territory and is not living separately and apart from the other person on a permanent or indefinite basis.
Do I need to pay adult child maintenance?
The court can make an order under the Family Law Act 1975 (Cth) for a parent to support their child financially where the child is over the age of 18 in circumstances where the child:
- Is completing their tertiary education (for example university or TAFE)
- Has a mental or physical disability
This is referred to as adult child maintenance. You must demonstrate that the order is necessary to enable the child to either complete their education or because the child has a mental or physical disability.
The object of these types of orders are to ensure that such children receive the proper level of financial support from their parents. This will be distributed between the parents, but not necessarily equally. The financial capacity of both parents will be considered to ensure both parent have the capacity to pay maintenance.
There does not need to be a warm relationship between the parties for adult child maintenance to be ordered (Everett & Everett) however the orders sought do need to be considered reasonable (Wadsworth & Wadsworth). In the case of Wadsworth & Wadsworth, the child’s refusal to accept a casual role of employment in the university holidays was not considered reasonable and the amount sought was reduced accordingly.
Whether an application for child adult maintenance is appropriate will really depend upon your individual circumstances. Please do not hesitate to contact our office to discuss your particular circumstances further.
Do I pay child support if my child is working full time?
If your child is working full time, you can apply for a change of assessment. This will allow the Registrar to consider whether the child support you have been assessed to pay should be amended as it is unfair or inequitable.
If the child receives minimal earnings, a Registrar will not usually consider a reduction in child support necessary (Mee and Ferguson).
The following types of income will not usually be considered as affecting the financial responsibility of the parents:
- income received from casual work in the school holidays or after school hours
- gifts of small amounts of money
- pocket money
The Registrar will consider the financial resources of the child in the context of the income and asset position of both parents.
Please refer to my article on applying for a change of assessment for further information.
Does the amount of child support I pay change if I have a child with a disability?
Either parent can apply to have the Department’s child support assessment changed on the basis that the cost of meeting the special needs of a child significantly affects the costs of maintaining the child. Please refer to my article on applying for a change of assessment for further information.
To establish that such a change is necessary, there must be some evidence that the needs of the child relate to a condition or disability that is out of the ordinary. Special needs include physical, mental or learning disabilities. The condition may result in costs that are essential or desirable for the child’s welfare that are outside the ordinary costs of a child (Lightfoot v Hampson).
The fact that the child suffers from a severe disability or has a special ability does not, in itself, mean that an assessment should be changed. The overall test is whether the costs of supporting that child are significantly different from those faced by most other parents. If the costs are only slightly higher than usual they might not be considered to significantly affect a parent’s ability to provide financial support for the child.