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Collecting and enforcing child support

Child support payments can be collected privately or by the Department of Human Services (Child Support) (DHS).

If you choose private collection then you are responsible for collecting child support and enforcing any unpaid child support debt. It can be difficult to recover payments if they have stopped or you are owed money.

If you are registered with the DHS then they are responsible for collecting child support and enforcing any unpaid child support debt. The DHS has wide collection powers.

If you or your ex-partner is living overseas there will be specific rules for collecting and paying child support depending on whether there is an agreement between the particular country and Australia. This is a complex area of law. Get legal advice.

Collecting child support payments

There are two ways you can collect child support payments:

  • privately
  • through the DHS.

Private collection

Both parents can agree to have child support payments collected privately (eg directly into a bank account). This doesn’t have to be in writing.

Private collection only works well if both parents complete tax returns when due and keep the DHS up to date with any changes in their circumstances.

If private payments get behind or stop or if you cannot agree on the amount of child support that should be paid, get legal advice immediately.

If you are the receiving parent, you should also contact the DHS and ask them to start collecting for you. They can take over responsibility for ongoing collection and any outstanding payments going back 3 months.

Department of Human Services (Child Support)

The DHS is responsible for collecting and enforcing payments made under an administrative assessment or a child support agreement when you have registered with them to collect.

The DHS has wide powers to enforce child support collection. They can arrange salary deductions or regular payments to them.  If payments aren’t made and a debt accrues, they may take the parent who should be paying child support to court to enforce payment of outstanding amounts.

If the paying parent doesn’t put in a tax return for a number of years and then puts them in late, the DHS will reassess those periods and may identify that more child support should have been paid for those years. This will create a child support debt for the paying parent.

In these circumstances, if the DHS was responsible for collecting child support during this time then they will be responsible for recovering the debt.

If you were collecting child support privately, then you will have to try and recover the money from the paying parent yourself.

If there’s little or no evidence of a person’s commitment to meeting their child support responsibilities or where there is evidence of fraud, the DHS relies on enforcement activities to ensure they achieve the best outcome for children, parents and taxpayers. Visit the DHS website for more information.

Child support assessments—proof of parentage

The DHS will only issue a child support assessment if you can prove the paying parent is the child’s biological or adoptive parent.

To do this you may need to have DNA testing—see proof of parentage.  You may also need to take court action.  In certain cases, we can provide assistance with this.  Please contact us for further information and legal advice.

Overseas collection and payments

You can get child support (and other payments) from a parent living overseas depending on where they live.

The Australian Government has agreements with many overseas countries for collecting and enforcing payments for child maintenance, child support and spousal maintenance. These are called reciprocating countries or reciprocating jurisdictions.

If the receiving parent and children live in a reciprocating country and they are eligible to receive child support payments (according to Australian laws), then you may have to pay child support.

The receiving parent will need to apply to the relevant child support agency in the country where they live and a request will be sent to the DHS to collect child support payments from you.

If you’ve got a child support assessment, court order or child maintenance order from an overseas country that has an agreement with Australia, the DHS can be asked to collect the child support from you.

If the paying parent is living in a country without an agreement with Australia, it may be difficult to get any child support or child maintenance. In most cases, Australian maintenance orders and assessments will have no force in these countries and there will be no government support to help you get payments.

Some overseas countries only accept court orders for child support or child maintenance but countries such as New Zealand, England and the United States will accept child support assessments made by the DHS.

The DHS can tell you if you need a court order or an assessment, but they can’t help you get a court order. Get legal advice.

When you’ve got a court order, lodge it with the DHS.

When the DHS has accepted your court order or application for child support assessment, they’ll liaise with the relevant agency in that country who will be responsible for collecting payments and sending them to Australia.

This is a complex area of law and you should contact the DHS or get legal advice.

Do I need legal advice?

You may need legal advice if:

  • you’ve got concerns about any child support or child maintenance issues—including the DHS decisions, collection and enforcement
  • you’ve got a dispute with Centrelink about taking reasonable maintenance action.

Get legal advice

We can give legal advice about collecting and enforcing child support payments. We don’t provide representation or help with preparing court documents in relation to these issues.

The following organisations may be able to give legal advice.

Caxton Community Legal Centre gives specialist legal advice on child support for both carer parents and liable (paying) parents.

Gold Coast Legal Service gives legal advice on child support.

Queensland Law Society can refer you to a specialist private lawyer for advice or representation.

Who else can help?

These organisations may be able to help. They don’t provide legal advice.

Centrelink can give you with information about family payments, the family tax benefit, and how your payments may be affected by changes to child support arrangements.

Department of Human Services (Child Support) administers the child support scheme to ensure parents contribute to the costs of raising children after separation. They give support and help to parents, including calculating, collecting and transferring child support payments.

Federal Circuit Court makes decisions about a range of issues including child support matters.

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