Understanding Child Support and Child Maintenance

People commonly use the terms ‘child maintenance’ and ‘child support’.  However, there is a distinct difference between these payments, how they apply and what they achieve. 

The Law states that separated parents have a legal obligation to provide financially for their children.  The Child Support Agency usually regulates these payments (unless the parties have a private Agreement) until a child reaches the age of 18 years, and then their involvement ceases.

However, what happens when a child reaches the age of 18?  Do the same requirements still exist for a parent to financially provide for their adult child?  The answer is yes, and the Family Law Act regulates this.

Under the Family Law Act, parents are liable to maintain the children according to their respective financial resources.  This is often called child support.

What is child support?

Child Support can be assessed in two ways, which include:

  • Parents can make a private agreement regarding the amount of child support to be paid and they often formalise this agreement by way of a Binding Child Support Agreement; or 
  • A parent can make an application to the Child Support Agency for an independent assessment for child support payments payable by the other parent.  Such an application is made by the parent with whom the child is primarily residing with.  This assessment takes into account the circumstances of the couple and the living arrangements for the children.

Child support legislation only applies to children under the age of 18 years of age, after which it is called adult child maintenance.

What is adult child maintenance?

Adult child maintenance is like child support.  A parent can seek adult child maintenance for a child that is over the age of 18, and who has financial needs due to their ongoing tertiary education or some mental or physical disability.   

To ask the Court for an Order in relation to adult child maintenance, an application would need to be made to the Court.  These applications are decided by the Court on a case-by-case basis.

Does there need to be an existing relationship between the child and the parent who is Ordered to pay child maintenance?  The Court has determined that, whether maintenance should be paid is decided what is reasonable in the circumstances.  The Court balances the parents’ resources against the child’s actual and potential resources.

Other factors that are considered are:

  • The age of the adult child; 
  • Any special needs of the adult child, including physical or intellectual disability; 
  • The financial earning capacity, income and financial resources of the adult child; and  
  • How the adult child is being educated or trained and how the parents expected the adult child to be educated or trained.

A child maintenance order for a child over the age of 18 will be in force until a day, or period, specified in the Order if the court is satisfied that the maintenance is necessary (in some circumstances it can be overturned). 

If you wish to discuss a potential application for adult child maintenance, get in contact with the expert team at Shanahan Family Law who can guide you through the process.

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