Fathers win in child support revamp
Jason Frenkel and Michael Harvey
MORE than 300,000 divorced dads will have their maintenance bills slashed under the biggest reform of the child support system in almost 20 years.
The $850 million overhaul will take more than two years to complete and will affect 1.1 million separated mothers and fathers. At its heart is a new formula to calculate child support, which will give equal weight to the incomes of both parents for the first time. There are about 680,000 non-custodial parents in Australia - mostly fathers. About 55 per cent can expect to pay less support. The Government says the changes will benefit children, but mothers' groups fear women-who make up 90 per cent of primary carers - will lose money (! ! ! ! ah yes there we have it....) and children will suffer.
The architect of the changes, law professor Patrick Parkinson, conceded many single mums would be worse off. Parents who avoid paying maintenance will be the target of a crackdown, which is expected to reap more than $464 million in unpaid child support. From July 1, non-custodial parents must pay a minimum $6 a week per child. Separating parents will be given a 13-week cooling-off period before they have to apply for maintenance - up from the current 28-day limit.
The main changes-including new child support calculations-won't be introduced until 2008. Although mothers have custody in about 95 per cent of divorces, the new rules will apply in reverse where the father is granted custody. The new formula will combine the incomes of both parents and require each to pay their proportional share of the cost of raising the child-rather than a flat-rate slice of their income. Both parents will have the first $16,883 of their incomes quarantined, while any money earned above that amount will be used to calculate the child support amount.
Non-custodial parents will be able to reduce their child support bill if they spend more time with their children. Caring for a child for between 52 and 126 nights each year will reduce the amount owed by 24 per cent, while those with custody for more than 176 nights will cut their maintenance bills by half.
The new formula also recognises for the first time that the cost of raising children increases as they get older. Under the changes, the child support payment for one child aged under 13 will be capped at $15,448, while the limit will be $19,246 a year for older children. Until the new formula takes effect, the high-income limit above which non-custodial parents do not have to pay additional child support will be reduced from $139,347 to $104,702.
The overhaul followed an 18-month review of the trouble-plagued system and aims to take some of the bitterness out of family breakdown. "This is all about putting children first," Family and Community Services Minister Mal Brough said. He refused to detail which parents would be worse off.
But Prof Parkinson, who chaired the review and designed! the new system, said custodial parents with young children could lose money. "I think the overall impact will be that resident parents will benefit enormously from having all the family tax benefit, but the formula - particularly for kids under 12 - will generate reductions overall," he said.
Human Services Minister Joe Hockey said the $150 million Child Support Agency revamp would force parents to pay. About 20,000 parents will have face-to-face help from the CSA through personalised case managers, while another 10,000 parents in regional areas will also get extra help.
Parents unhappy with the arrangements will be able to appeal to the Social Security Appeals Tribunal. The changes have been agreed in-principle by the Coalition party room. Opposition family services spokesman Chris Evans supported many elements of the $850 million package.
© Herald and Weekly Times
Fathers win in child support revamp