Child support is financial assistance provided by one parent to the other parent after separation to help cover the costs of raising children. But in Australia, the parent receiving child support payments isn’t required to report on how the money is being spent. This understandably raises concerns for some paying parents. How can they make sure the child support payments are being spent on their kids?
What is Child Support?
In Australia, child support is:
- Money paid by one parent to help the other parent pay for expenses related to raising children, like food, clothing, housing, medical costs, etc.
- Determined based on both parents’ incomes, care arrangements, and the children’s financial needs.
- Intended to help maintain the children’s standard of living even though the parents have separated.
No Requirement to Account for Spending
There is no legal requirement in Australia for the receiving parent to provide an account of how child support funds are used. Requiring detailed accounting of expenses could potentially be considered financial control and a form of domestic abuse in some cases.
It would also be unrealistic to expect tracking of every single dollar spent on the children – expenses like groceries, restaurants, clothing, etc. can’t reasonably be separated out.
Concerns About Misuse of Funds
Understandably, the paying parent might worry that the child support funds are being misused or that the children’s needs are not being fully met. They might believe that the other parent has a habit of “wasting money” or be concerned that they are spending the money on themselves to the detriment of the children.
However, attempting to control spending through restrictions simply does not work. For example, providing a credit card instead of cash payments. The receiving parent needs flexibility to manage the household and expenses, and they need to be free of any potential financial control or abuse.
If you as a paying parent have genuine concerns about your child being neglected while in the care of the other parent, then you should consider seeking legal advice about those concerns.
Increasing Visibility Through Binding Agreements
One potential solution is for the paying parent to increase their visibility of spending through a binding child support agreement (BCSA). For instance, the BCSA might provide for one parent to directly pay for certain expenses like school fees, with a corresponding reduction in the periodic cash payments to the other parent. But the receiving parent will still have discretion over the day-to-day use of the periodic child support payments.
Both parents must obtain independent legal advice for a binding agreement to be recognized by Services Australia (the government department that administers child support). This legal advice will incur costs for both parents, so that must be weighed up against the potential benefits of a BCSA.
What Can Paying Parents Do?
If you have ongoing concerns about your child’s basic needs being met, it’s advisable to seek legal advice to understand your options.