When the Child Support Agency (CSA) makes an assessment regarding what payments should be made from one parent to another, it takes many factors into consideration. Some of these are regarding the parents themselves, such as earning capacity, personal expenditure and relationship status, to name a few. However, they also take the children’s circumstances into account, such as their special needs or requirements.
The CSA, in its assessment, assumes that the children are attending a public school, therefore requiring little financial maintenance beyond uniforms and supplies. However, many parents choose to send their children to private schools, which incur considerably higher fees than those of public schools. Depending on the school, these fees can be considerable. At the time of separation, there may be disagreement between the parents in relation to who should pay for those private school fees, particularly where one parent is now required to make regular payments of child support to the other.
So how does this situation resolve?
If the matter were to go before court, the Court firstly considers the circumstances of the children’s attendance at such a school. If they have been attending a private school for many years, and both parents agreed, during the relationship, that the children would attend a particular private school (often evidenced by both parents’ signatures on the enrolment form), then they are likely to order that the children should continue to attend the school and that both parents ought to share the cost, provided it will not be too financially onerous on one or both parents. In the case of Evans v Evans, the Court said that child support must reflect the expectations that the child will continue to be educated at a private school, where they had been so prior to separation.
Therefore, it is the Courts position that children should continue to receive private education. For a parent paying child support and private school fees, how can this double payment be reconciled?
The CSA recognises the potential for financial burden in this scenario. It is simple for one parent to request a ‘re-assessment’ of their current circumstances, to take into account the private school fees. Generally, parents will pay 50/50 of the private school fees. However, where child support payments are occurring, the CSA can ‘credit’ up to 30% of the current child support payments, towards the school fees. This is known as a ‘non-agency’ payment. In essence, both parents will continue to pay 50% of the school fees, with the parent paying the child support having up to 30% of their child support payments retracted to account for their contribution to the school fees.
It may seem complicated, but it allows children to have a sense of continuity and normalcy, in what can be an overwhelming emotional experience for them.
If you are going through a separation and are concerned about private school fees, please call our team at Stanley & Co Lawyers on (08) 7001 6135.