Enforcement and Ending Child Maintenance Orders
A child support order rarely means the end of a person’s financial problems. In many cases it is just the beginning. The parent who obtains the order in their favour faces problems of:
- irregular payment;
- inability to pay the full amount;
- disappearance of the other parent; and/or
- change of name or work place, meaning that garnishment (a court order that the maintenance payments be paid by the person’s employer from the employee’s wages) is not possible.
Under the Family Law Act it is no longer possible to have a child support defaulter (that is, a person who does not pay child support) imprisoned for non-payment. However, if the defaulter acts in contempt of the Court, (e.g. willfully disobeying the court order), the contempt may be punished by imprisonment.
Anyone entitled to be paid spousal maintenance or child support, or both, under a court order or agreement may register that entitlement with the Child Support Agency. The CSA will then collect and enforce the payments. Enforcement action for any defaults or arrears may include wage garnishment, seizure and sale of personal or real property and/or sequestration of estates (Reg 20.05, Family Law Rules2004).
Wage garnishment requires that the liable parent’s employer takes the child support payment out of the parent’s pay packet. This is called ‘employer withholding’. In order to garnishee a person’s wages successfully, the person must be in regular employment and be employed by a person or company which pays them a salary or wage. This has been one of the most successful methods of child support collection.
Ending a Child Maintenance Order
Unless otherwise specified, a maintenance child support order for a child ends when the child turns 18, dies, marries or is adopted (ss66T-V, Family Law Act (Cth)). An administrative assessment issued by the Child Support Agency ends when the child turns 18, marries, dies, is adopted or no longer resides in Australia. A child who has turned 18 may continue to receive child support for the remainder of Year 12 schooling, but only if it is formally requested by a parent before the child turns 18. As well, support may be ordered to continue, by agreement between the parents or by court order, for any child over the age of 18 years when that child is still studying or has a disability and requires ongoing parental support (s66L, Family Law Act).