Finances and property: Child support and maintenance

When the Court can assist

Child support is usually dealt with administratively through Services Australia (Child Support) (Services Australia), rather than through the Court. It is governed primarily by the Child Support (Assessment) Act 1989.

The Court may consider child support proceedings only in limited circumstances. This occurs primarily in relation to:

  1. child support appeals, where a party has gone through all steps of the administrative process, and ultimately needs to appeal an administrative decision to the Court
  2. where an administrative child support assessment has been issued, and the eligible carer (the person receiving child support) seeks that the payment of non-periodic child support (see section 123 of the Child Support (Assessment) Act 1989), and
  3. where an administrative child support assessment has been issued, and a party to that assessment seeks to depart from it (wants it changed) because of special circumstances (see section 117 of the Child Support (Assessment) Act 1989) and either:
    1. the Court is already dealing with a case involving the parties, and the Court is satisfied that it would be in the interests of the parties, in the special circumstances of the case, for the Court to consider the child support departure application, or
    2. the assessment provides for the minimum level of child support to be paid (see section 66 of the Child Support (Assessment) Act 1989).

The Court also has power to make child maintenance orders pursuant to the Family Law Act 1975, but only where a party cannot apply for child support under the Child Support (Assessment) Act 1989 (see section 66E of the Family Law Act 1975).

Before you apply to the Court

The Court only has the power to hear certain types of child support applications and appeals. In most situations, parents or eligible carers must first satisfy all administrative requirements with Services Australia (Child Support).

For more information about fulfilling the Services Australia administrative requirements:

Generally, a parent or eligible carer who disagrees with a Services Australia decision must lodge an objection with Services Australia, and wait to receive a response. If they are unsatisfied with the response, an application can then be made to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT) for a review of an objection decision.

The AAT cannot, however, review all objection decisions of the Services Australia. To find out which objection decisions the AAT can review:

Where the AAT cannot review an objection decision, parents or eligible carers may be able to apply to the Court for orders.

Financial support for a child who has turned 18 years of age

If a child turns 18 while they are in full-time secondary education and there is a child support assessment in place, you can apply to Services Australia (Child Support) to extend the assessment. An extension will continue until the last day of that school year. The application must be made before the child turns 18, unless there are exceptional circumstances. See section 151B  of the Child Support (Assessment) Act 1989.

In all other cases, the Court can make an order for maintenance, where the maintenance is necessary to enable that child to complete their education; or because of the child's mental or physical disability. An order may be made for a 17 year old child that begins when the child turns 18 – see section 66L  of the Family Law Act 1975.

More information

For more information, see the factsheet Child Support Applications.

Legal advice

You are not required to be represented by a lawyer, or to seek legal advice, before entering into consent orders or applying to the Court, or if you have been served with an application. However, family law is complex, and getting legal advice will help you to better understand your rights and responsibilities.

For information on how to get legal advice, see Find a lawyer.

Practice directions

Practice directions are procedural guidelines issued by the Court. They complement legislation, rules and regulations. They provide specific direction about the practice and procedure that must be followed in certain types of proceedings.

Practice directions are issued by the Chief Justice/Chief Judge upon advice of judges of the Court, pursuant to the Court’s inherent power to control its own processes, as well as the power under the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia Act 2021 for the Court to give directions about the practice and procedure to be followed in a proceeding.

In general, practice directions are issued to:

  • complement particular legislative provisions or rules of court
  • set out more detailed procedures for particular types of proceedings, and
  • notify parties and their lawyers of matters which require their attention.

Below are links to the practice directions that apply to this area of law: