March 2019 | Cheryl Po


The American R&B singer, R. Kelly, was recently taken into custody in Chicago for failing to pay outstanding child support of more than US$160,000. Fortunately for this high-profile celebrity, he was released when payment was made on his behalf by a third party.

In Australia, parents are not imprisoned for failing to pay child support. However, it raises the question, how seriously do courts in this country view this type of conduct?

It’s an important principle of Australian law that all parents have a legal duty to support their children regardless of the status of their relationship with the other parent. Where the parents are no longer living together the payments made to the other parent (or carer) to support a child is called “child support”. Parents who do not receive certain Centrelink payments are free to make their own arrangements for child support. However, if parents fall below this threshold they may be required to make an application for a child support assessment through the Department of Human Services (DHS).

The amount payable will then depend on a range of factors including the parents’ taxable incomes, the ages of the children and the time each parent spends with the child.

Once an assessment is made (based on a formula set out in the legislation) and registered by the DHS, the parent who is assessed to pay child support (the liable parent) becomes immediately liable to pay child support at the assessed rate. 

If you are the liable parent and fail to pay the assessed amount, then the arrears become a debt owed exclusively to the Commonwealth which has powers to recover the debt in a variety of ways:

  1. The DHS can take you to court to recover the debt on behalf of the receiving parent;
  2. The Child Support Registrar may intercept your tax refund and apply it towards the arrears;
  3. Your wages could be garnished to pay the arrears until the full amount is paid;
  4. Your bank account balance could be forfeited;
  5. You may be stopped at customs and prevented from leaving the country;
  6. Your property could be seized and sold to pay the arrears if the court makes such an order.

If you have any concerns with your child support assessment and/or you wish or need to alter it, don’t wait until the DHS takes action. Contact us immediately on (02) 9231 2466 to speak to one of our experienced Family Lawyers to discuss your options.