Introduction to Child Support and Adult Child Maintenance

The Federal Department of Human Services regulates all issues of Child Support and Adult Child Maintenance in Australia. Both of these aspects fall under the purview of Part VII of the Family Law Act of 1975. All decisions made in matters relating to child support and adult child maintenance are based on the regulations laid under the Act, placing utmost importance on the best interests of the child.


It is well known that a separating couple has a shared responsibility to provide for the needs of the children born in their relationship. Irrespective of who the child is living with or what the custody arrangements are, one parent has to pay the other parent for the food, clothing, education, and several other needs of the children.


Defining Child Support: Obligations and Responsibilities

Section 73 of the Family Law Act 1975 states that both parents, according to their financial resources, are liable to pay a certain amount that can cover the needs of the child and the costs of raising them. This is called Child Support and is paid until the child turns 18. This payment may be made by one parent to the other (usually to the parent with whom the child is living) or by both parents to a non-parent carer (like a grandparent or a legal guardian).


Parents can mutually agree on child support arrangements and arrive at a decision on how much child support to pay, when and how frequently to make payments, and what mode to use for making payments. In this case, both parents must get independent legal advice individually.


If the parents are unable to mutually agree on an arrangement for child support payments, they may approach the Child Support Agency to carry out a Child Support Assessment that will help arrive at ideal arrangements. Child support agreements may be a Limited Child Support Agreement that may or may not require an assessment or a Binding Child Support Agreement that requires an assessment.


Exploring Adult Child Maintenance: Supporting Dependants Beyond Childhood

Child support payments end when the child turns 18. However, there are situations when the child remains financially dependent on their parents even after they are 18 years old. This may be because the child is undergoing their tertiary education, is enrolled in a university, or is undergoing some kind of training that may be helpful for their career and help them earn an income. This post-adulthood financial dependence of the child may also be because of a physical disability or a mental illness that prevents them from being financially independent.


This payment is called Adult Child Maintenance which is made to support the child beyond the age of 18 years, and the regulations for this arrangement fall under Section 73 of the Family Law Act 1975. Child maintenance payments cannot be initiated until the child support agreements are in place. Just as in the case of child support, parents can come to a mutual agreement about an adult-child maintenance arrangement. Alternatively, they can seek court intervention and apply for orders to be issued on this matter. When courts issue orders on adult child maintenance, they consider several factors and have the discretion to decide whether the payment should be made in lump sum or instalments at regular intervals.


Factors Influencing Child Support Payments

While deciding on a child support arrangement, several aspects need to be considered. General considerations include the living arrangements of the child, the income of the parents, and the number of children in the relationship. Other factors include the age of the child, the everyday costs involved in raising the child, and if there are any other children that the parents are supporting financially. When it comes to deciding the amount to be paid as child support, the time spent by each parent caring for the child is also considered. The income of non-parent carers is, however, not taken into account here.


Factors Influencing Adult Child Maintenance

Arrangements for adult child maintenance are also finalised after considering several factors. The court regards aspects like the financial dependence of the child on their parents, the financial capacity of the child to provide for themselves, and the financial capacity of the parents to provide for the child. Likewise, the child’s age and any special needs are also considered.


If adult child maintenance is being paid to help the child finish their tertiary or university education, then it needs to be confirmed if the maintenance payments will help the child finish their education. Additionally, certain other aspects are also to be considered in the case of the tertiary education of the child. It needs to be known if the course being pursued by the child will help the child earn an income, whether the child is capable enough to gain financial derivatives from the course, whether the child has scholarships or other sources of income, and whether the parent has the means to pay for the child’s education and needs. It is also to be considered if the child would face hardships if they dropped out of the course due to a lack of means.


To determine the amount to be paid as adult child maintenance, the court considers the expenses involved in providing for the necessities of the child, the financial position of each parent, and the amount required by each parent to sustain themselves and their other dependents.


Duration of Support: Child Support vs Adult Child Maintenance

Child support is paid until the child is 18 years old. This can be extended until the last day of school if the child is undergoing full-time secondary education. Be it a self-managed child support agreement or a Binding or Limited child support agreement, the duration of child support is fixed.


However, in the case of adult child maintenance, this duration is decided by the court. The court can order for the adult child maintenance payments to be made until the child completes their education or is cured of the certain illness or disability that was initially the cause of the adult child maintenance agreement. The payments can also be stopped at the end of the period specified in the agreement. Other factors that may cause the adult child maintenance payments to discontinue are the death of the child or the parent, reconciliation of the parents, the marriage of the adult child, or if the child is no longer an Australian citizen.


Modification and Enforcement of Child Support Orders

In the event of disagreement with the terms of the child support arrangement, either parent can apply for a review of that decision. If the payments are not being made by the concerned parent, the receiving parent can approach the child support agency to get the payments. Overdue payments of up to three months in normal situations and nine months in special situations can be collected. If there is a change in the circumstances of the parents, existing child support orders may be terminated, and new ones can be put in place that are inclusive of the changed circumstances.


Modification and Enforcement of Adult Child Maintenance Orders

Adult child maintenance orders can be applied for by either the parent or the child and will take effect when the child is 18 years old. An adult child maintenance order between the parents is registered with Services Australia (Child Support), which also helps in collecting the payments. On the other hand, when the order is between the parent and their child, the order cannot be registered. It is beneficial if the child can establish that they have a part-time job or are looking for one in an attempt to cover their expenses, at least partially. However, to bring in a modification to an existing maintenance order, either the parent or the child can apply to the court for the same.


Seeking Legal Advice

The regulations that govern child support and adult child maintenance orders and agreements are quite clear and finite. However, when it comes to the legal proceedings and required paperwork, handling them without professional legal guidance would be rather challenging. Most importantly, before entering into a child support agreement, each parent needs to get independent legal advice separately. All these factors imply that professional guidance is inevitable in dealing with matters related to child support and adult child maintenance arrangements between the parents while keeping the child’s best interests as a top priority.


At Maatouks, we have a team of family lawyers who have comprehensive knowledge and expertise in the fields of child support and adult child maintenance. This helps us provide you with the right kind of counselling and legal advice, besides assisting you at every step of the process.


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