Tribunal: Member F Hewson
The AAT set aside a decision of a delegate of Services Australia—Child Support (the Department) that a mother was owed arrears of child support that should be registered for collection. The Tribunal substituted its decision that there was no debt as the father had already paid the assessed amount.
The law on the collection of child support is flexible, allowing parents to make their own arrangements. This is called ‘private collection’. However, a parent receiving child support payments can ‘opt-in’ and register the liability, allowing the Child Support Registrar to collect the money instead.
The parents had two school aged children and the father paid the mother child support. The money was collected privately for several years, but the mother opted-in and asked the Department to take over. At the same time, she applied to have three months of unpaid child support registered as arrears, making it a debt owed to the Department.
The father paid the money but objected to the decision. After his objection was unsuccessful, he applied to the AAT for a review.
The father told the AAT he stopped his regular payments to the mother because he believed he had overpaid her child support in an earlier period. New information about the mother’s income had led the Department to change their child support assessment which reduced the father’s payments. He felt the Department acted unfairly in accepting the opt-in application from the mother as it meant he could not recover the overpaid amounts by temporarily suspending payment.
The mother acknowledged she had been overpaid but did not have the lump sum to repay the father and argued he should not have decided to stop paying child support at all.
The AAT decided to accept the mother’s application for collection of ongoing child support. However, there was no debt as the mother had already received the arrears amount through the overpayment in the earlier period.
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