Back to School Costs After Separation – How Far Can Your Child Support Payments Go?

The payment of Child support continues to incite much heated conversations.  Whilst a government report commissioned a few years ago found that of those people surveyed:-

  1. many believed that the amount of child support being paid was considered to be about right; and
  2. many said that the actual child support that was being paid was being paid in full and on time.

we often hear people complaining that they are paying too much child support or not getting enough child support.

The basic child support formula is complicated and multi-layered. It relies upon detailed research into the costs of raising children in different age bands as its starting point. The basic formula then takes into account the parents respective relevant incomes and the amount of time that each of the children spend with each parent in determining an appropriate level of child support to be paid and/or received. The formula also makes allowances for new siblings and other dependents and for other “life” considerations. There are grounds upon which you can seek to change an administrative assessment of child support if, for example, you can satisfy the Department of Human Services that the income of one or both parents is not properly taken into account or the costs of raising your child or children are special in all of the circumstances. Provided you meet particular provisions these matters can also be considered by the Family Court.

However, how relevant is the basic formula for separating families living in most areas of Sydney?

Perhaps two of the biggest factors relevant to large parts of Sydney that are not necessarily captured in the basic child support formula are:

  1. The high costs of housing in Sydney; and
  2. The growing propensity to send children to private schools especially at the secondary school level.

These two factors weigh heavily on the budgets of most families not just those experiencing separation. Creeping housing costs in Sydney are difficult to escape. The cost of education and in particular “back to school” fees are also significant and are costs that we cannot have a great deal of control over.  Availing yourself of the second hand uniform stall or recycling hand-me-down clothes and books goes only a small way towards making ends meet.

The basic child support formula is meant to cover the costs of public school education and associated expenses including uniforms, shoes, stationary, books and the like.

Payments of child support do not “spike” in January/February each year to take extra “back to school” costs into account. If you are receiving child support and are obliged to meet all the “back to school” costs yourself then you either need to try to budget for this expensive time of year over the course of the previous twelve months, or as most people do, use credit cards and spend the next few months playing “catch-up”.

Private school fees and the extra expenses charged at most private schools along with the extra “back to school” costs generally are only payable by an ex-spouse if you have secured a departure order from the Court or have entered into a Binding Child Support Agreement with your former spouse or partner requiring that all or a proportion of those expenses are paid. In either case provision can be made for the payment of a raft of “back to school” expenses that are incurred at the start of the year or at other times including:

  • Laptops, IPads and IT expenses (even maintenance, repair and replacement costs)
  • Hockey sticks, team uniforms sports equipment and registration costs
  • Musical instruments, tuition and examination charges
  • Incursions, excursions and even overseas immersion trips
  • Camp fees, Cadets and Duke of Edinburgh

No matter what your budget or your circumstances after separation, it is vital to understand what all your true child costs are and also what they are likely to be moving forward, including non-recurring costs like “back to school” expenses. It is also essential to determine what real income will be available to meet all of these costs. “Back to school” costs which spike at the start of each year are a strong reminder of how important this is. This is true for all families but particularly so for families experiencing separation. Clearly setting out who will be responsible for all of these child related expenses is crucial and these obligations should be clearly included in a Binding Child Support Agreement or Court Orders. Without any settlement being documented in this way there is no real obligation for either parent to meet these costs and these costs can be really felt as children get ready to return to school each year.

Doolan Wagner Family Lawyers offer specialist family law advice in St Leonards on Sydney’s North Shore.  If you would like some more information about child support or have a Family Law enquiry, please contact us on (02) 9437 0010 or send us an email at enquiries@familylawyersdw.com.au to discuss your matter in complete confidence.  Lisa Wagner is the founding principal of Doolan Wagner Family Lawyers, an Accredited Family Law Specialist and a nationally registered Family Dispute Resolution Practitioner on Sydney’s North Shore.  We also have a team of experienced and caring professional family lawyers available to help you in this difficult time.

These posts are only intended as an overview or comment on current issues that may interest you and are not legal advice. If there are any matters that you would like us to advise you on, then please contact us.