An Overview of the Commonwealth Countries'
and United States' Procedures for
Establishing and Modifying Child Support

Part 1
The Administrative Child Support Schemes of the Commonwealth Countries


The child support schemes operating in Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom have similar historical roots; however, there are also some variations worthy of comment. For instance, in the United Kingdom, the Child Support Agency operates as a semi-independent office of the Department of Social Security, and in both Australia and New Zealand, the tax offices administer child support when the courts are not involved.

The most pronouced difference between the United Kingdom on the one hand and New Zealand and Australia on the other is the continuing role of the court in the area of child support. In the United Kingdom, the legislation has virtually abolished the court's involvement in any basic assessment of child support - this responsibility has been legislatively assigned to the Child Support Agency. In New Zealand and Australia on the other hand, the court maintains a strong role in the administrative process, which includes conducting reviews of administrative decisions where requested by the parties. Therefore, in both Australia and New Zealand, the child support office coexists with the existing court processes.

In this regard, the United Kingdom scheme is much more comprehensive and complicated than are the more simple Australian and New Zealand child support processes. There are advantages and disadvantages to either approach. On the one hand, the United Kingdom agency has found it difficult to process child support assessments in an efficient and rapid manner. On the other hand, the simplified nature of the initial Australian and New Zealand schemes has meant that in many cases where the factors are somewhat more complex, the processes have been unable to deal with the issues and the case is eventually referred to court. The newly proposed departure processes in both of the latter countries have been designed to address some of these issues and are anticipated to provide agency personnel with increased scope for discretion.

The differences between the Australian and New Zealand systems include the fact that in Australia, the governing legislation leaves intact existing court-ordered arrangements for both child and spousal support established prior to 1989, whereas in New Zealand, the administrative process overrides many existing voluntary agreements and court orders. In addition, in Australia, the personal income of the custodial parent[1] is also factored into the formula for assessing how much the non-custodial parent will have to pay; in New Zealand, the custodial parent's income is not assessed. Finally, living allowances have been modified in New Zealand to provide for liable parents' new spouses and any stepchildren, whether they are financially dependent on the custodial parent or not.

[1]It is acknowledged by the writer that the term "non-custodial" parent may not be entirely accurate in all situations; however, the term is used throughout the report for the sake of convenience.

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