This is part two in a three-part series about the changes to Child Support in 2018. This segment deals with changes to care (including interim care) arrangements and how they may affect your child support obligations or entitlements.
How do care arrangements affect your child support?
In order to assess Child Support, the Child Support Agency calculates the “care percentage” for each child, which is the amount of nights the child spends with each parent. It is important to note that only overnights are taken into account for the purposes of the assessment.
Where the care of a child has been agreed or determined by a Court, the Child Support Agency can accept the following documents as evidence of those arrangements:
- Court Orders; or
- Parenting Plans or Written agreements (signed and dated by both parties).
Changes to the parenting arrangements
Prior to the amendments, if the parenting arrangements were changed, resulting in a child spending reduced time with one parent, the Child Support Assessment would be changed to reflect the actual parenting arrangements after a period of 14 weeks.
Under this regime it did not matter whether the change to the care arrangements were agreed or disputed. This meant that in cases where one parent unilaterally withheld a child (without a valid reason) they may have benefited from receiving increased child support.
The 2018 amendments allow the Child Support Agency to delay varying the child support assessment in cases where changes to the care arrangements are disputed. In these circumstances, the Child Support Assessment will be based on the agreed or ordered parenting arrangements rather than what is actually occurring for an interim period of time.
How the interim period is calculated
An interim period will only apply in circumstances of a disputed care change where the parent with reduced care takes reasonable action to encourage compliance with the written agreement or Order. For example, inviting the other parent to participate in Family Dispute Resolution (FDR).
If an interim care determination is made, then the interim period will begin on the day the care of the child changes. The Registrar will calculate two percentages of care, the first being what percentage of care that parent should have (care percentage A) and the second being what they actually have (care percentage B).
Care percentage A will be applied during the interim period and care percentage B will apply after the interim period has ended.
How long will the interim period apply?
The length of the interim period will depend on whether the original care arrangements were pursuant to Court Orders, a parenting plan or a written agreement. The length of time it is in place will also depend on whether the parties are taking reasonable steps to participate in FDR.
If parenting arrangements pursuant to Court Orders are varied, the interim period will end at the later of:
- 52 weeks after the arrangements were due to commence pursuant to the Court Orders;
- 26 weeks after the care arrangements were changed (if the person with increased care did not take reasonable steps to participate in family dispute resolution); or
- 14 weeks after a person with increased care started to take reasonable steps to participate in family dispute resolution.
If parenting arrangements pursuant to a Parenting Plan or other written agreement are varied the interim period will end at the later of:
- 14 weeks after the care arrangements were changed (if the person with increased care did not take continuous reasonable steps to participate in family dispute resolution); or
- 4 weeks after a person with increased care started to take reasonable steps to participate in family dispute resolution.; or
- 52 weeks after the written care arrangement commences if the care arrangements changed 38-48 weeks after the written care arrangements commenced and the person with increased care takes continuous reasonable action.
These amendments to the child support legislation should encourage more parents to engage in family dispute resolution before considering changing the parenting arrangements unilaterally.