What happens if COVID-19 has affected your ability to pay child support?

The child support system is designed to provide children with the financial support they need to live and thrive. However, over the last few months, the global Coronavirus pandemic has turned Australia upside down and has created a great deal of uncertainty and concern, particularly for separated families. With over a million Australians losing their jobs and millions more with a reduced income, many parents are facing significant difficulty in meeting not only their living expenses, but also their child support obligations. At Robert Wood and Associates, we are experienced child support lawyers in Melbourne. If COVID-19 has impacted your income and your ability to pay child support, we are here to help. Let’s take a look at what you can do to ensure that you can make reasonable decisions during this difficult time.

Communicate Your Situation to Your Ex

It’s so important to talk to your child’s other parent about your situation. While you do not have to go into detail, being upfront and letting them know about your change in circumstances (a job loss, or reduced income) and how that may impact your payments will help to reduce any tension. It’s also possible that your ex-spouse will not be able to meet all of his or her obligations without the child support payments, so knowing ahead of time can give them the chance to prepare for the difficult time ahead. Both parents should be open and honest about their respective circumstances and the children’s needs, this will assist in coming to an amicable agreement for the short term. A reduction in child support payments can cause great stress in the home so it is important that parents keep the lines of communication open for the benefit of the children.

Lodge a Revised Income Estimate

Both parents should work together to prioritise what’s important and who will pay certain expenses until the situation improves. If the issue cannot be resolved, then the non-paying parent can make an application for administrative assessment with the Department of Human Services (Child Support Agency). Child Support Agency (CSA) administrative assessments vary based on each parent’s income, among other factors such as percentage of care. If the income for a parent reduces, then that parent can seek to alter their child support income by lodging a new estimate of their income with CSA. The child support amount was originally determined using income and financial assets and obligations based on reports provided at that time. However, circumstances do change, often unexpectedly such as during the current pandemic, so it’s important your change in circumstances is declared.

Seek Legal Advice

If you are unable to meet your child support obligations, you should seek legal advice regarding your situation as soon as possible. There are a range of options available to negotiate an outcome that is practical and workable for everyone involved, whether it be for the short or long term. It is possible to reach a temporary agreement between parents to get through this difficult period, and legal advice should be sought to ensure the agreement is properly recorded.

A Court Order is Important

It’s important to understand that no oral agreement will be legally binding or recognized as valid by the court so even if your ex-spouse verbally agrees to allow you to skip some child support payments or pay less than you are ordered, if any disputes arise in future, they can always go back and declare that you are in contempt of court. For your own protection, it is crucial to have the child support order formally approved and modified by a judge.

If your situation has changed and you are struggling to meet your child support obligations, there are options available to you and the team at Robert Wood are here to help you explore them. COVID-19 has impacted so many families, and it is crucial to act quickly to ensure the wellbeing of the children involved. For expert advice from top Melbourne child support lawyers, get in touch with us today on (03) 9762 3877 or contact us online now.

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