Advice for Family Law and Child Support Newbies

Submitted by an anonymous contributor.

Hi

I’m just your average punter who has gone through separation, the ex’s lawyers, a failed business, loss of income and property, and becoming a ‘client’ of the good ol’ CSA (or whatever the “child support” wing of Government now calls themselves, as they seem to have lost the agency title, possibly to escape the stigma of a history of broken customers)

I had no idea where to turn when we first separated and I was told to leave the family home. I couldn’t afford a lawyer. Over the last few years I’ve managed to build up a few funds to see lawyers and spend a lot of time researching what I probably “should” have done. I’m providing this advice for anyone going through the same thing. I’m male, but the advice applies equally to women – it’s basically for whichever partner gets kicked to the curb and is prevented from seeing your children. I hope it helps.

THE FOLLOWING DOES NOT REPRESENT LEGAL ADVICE AND IS FOR YOUR INFORMATION ONLY. ALWAYS ENGAGE A LAWYER IF YOU ARE UNSURE OF YOUR RIGHTS. BE AWARE THERE ARE MANY RESOURCES WHERE YOU CAN LEARN YOUR RIGHTS WITHOUT THE INITIAL EXPENSE OF A LAWYER. HOW MUCH YOU HELP YOURSELF TO UNDERSTAND YOUR SITUATION IS UP TO YOU. **NEVER** COMMIT TO ANYTHING IN WRITING UNTIL YOU HAVE LEARNED YOUR RIGHTS AND RESPONSIBILITIES FOR ACCESS TO YOUR CHILDREN AND PAYING CHILD SUPPORT.

Focus on your “brand” you want to protect for the next year and onwards. Try to be proud of where you got to before the separation, and hopeful about a new future. Hold your head high and know that the Facebook bitching and your ex’s version of the truth given to your friends or their friends mean nothing. The important thing is you maintain connection with your kid/s and they know you love them. The system is designed to help your ex alienate you from your children if you let it, but you have enshrined legal rights to “significant and substantial time” with your child/ren. Now you need to keep yourself in a mentally fit state so you can enjoy that time.

It’s normal for the ex to hate you and start leveraging the entire family law and child support system to punish you. For men, read “The Bloke’s Guide to Family Law & Child Support” (it’s available in the Files section of the Facebook group https://www.facebook.com/groups/childsupportreform/) to get an understanding of the bias of the Family Law Courts and the methods lawyers use to maximise their income from both you and your ex’s funds (which should be going to your kids and not lawyers). Know your rights and have your aims clear before you brief a lawyer. Try to engage a lawyer recommended by another person the same gender as you, who has achieved good results with the lawyer.

It helps to have a rough understanding of how family law and child support is meant to operate – this article should help.

It’s normal for your ex to say they’re focusing on the children, when in fact it feels like pins are going into the voodoo doll they keep in the drawer. It can be really frustrating when you are pretty sure you’re being stabbed in the back. Rise above it – you can’t fight the help they can receive, and you can’t stop the lies they choose to tell, if that’s the way they choose to roll.

It’s normal for you to dislike or even hate the other parent of your child/ren because you’ve moved from being in a family home to being sent away and having to regroup, at the same time being approached by a whole bunch of dipshits saying they represent your ex’s interests. Get over it, no one can force you to sign anything or agree to anything. Spend your energy learning your rights and focusing on what you intend to do for your kids in future.

Never let your kids know of any negative opinion you have of their other parent. You both love them, and you want to see them as much as possible. Don’t let the system or its effect on your ex become a barrier to your love for your kids.

The sequence of events should go something like :

– Separation
– Property settlement (the ex will engage a lawyer and you should too before you sign anything)
– Formalised parenting plan (often lodged in Court the same time as Property Settlement)
– Binding or Limited Child Support Agreements (note the warning about these and understand you are not obliged to enter into one – talk to lawyer, read about others experiences)
– Application to CSA (usually by your ex with lawyers advice)
– CSA call you to confirm they have received a request to calculate child support. They may also have been requested to collect the payments from you.
– You begin a long process of being a lucky CSA customer.

BASIC PLAN

1. From day one of separation, tell your ex you want to do everything in writing so there is no confusion when you both go back to look at what you’re both agreeing on for the kids’ future – open a gmail account specifically for discussing parenting and child support with your ex.
2. Write every email assuming your ex will give it to their lawyer or sit and chat about it over drinks with all their besties
3. Reaffirm your commitment to being in your child/ren’s lives. Don’t accept any bait to make you angry. Don’t swear, don’t make abusive or threatening comments. Stick to facts about what you would like to achieve for yourself and your kids.
4. Don’t post negative comments on social media and don’t make any negative comments about your ex, unless it’s to people you trust with your life.
5. Know the legal requirement is for you to pay child support as assessed by CSA, and that (in the vast majority of cases) is ALL. Know this can be in the range of say $100-$600 per week per child or more, all based on a confusing formula that assesses your joint incomes. Also note while CSA calculate your income on the GROSS amount including any perks from your employer, the money they actually force you to pay (direct to your ex or via CSA) comes from your AFTER TAX income.
6. Child Support calculated by CSA covers all the usual expenses expended caring for a child – accommodation, food, education, day care and before/after school care, normal medical attention, transport, books and computers, extracurricular activities, uniforms, lessons and sports.
7. Think very carefully about agreeing to pay for anything in addition to the Child Support payments assessed by CSA. Typical additional requests might be private education, private health care, expensive sporting activities or similar. It’s completely up to you if you agree to these, but when you do they’ll most likely be documented in a Binding Agreement which you are then committed to for life (with a few exceptions), or a Limited Agreement which will stay in place at least 3 years. These agreements are difficult to change, and you are NOT required to agree to enter into one, so don’t sign it unless you fully understand what it is!
8. Remember your financial circumstances have now changed and may change again. Now you have expenses to set up a new home, purchase furniture or other needs. In addition you may lose your current job. If making commitments in writing, think about how these commitments will affect you if you have less savings and/or no income. What if you’re unemployed, incapacitated, have to travel for work etc.
9. Take control of your communications to and from CSA. See the email/CSA guideline below.

PROPERTY SETTLEMENT

Property settlement is separate to child support. In a typical situation with the mother having majority custody and father moving out, expect roughly 60%/40% in the mother’s favour. Legal advice usually indicates that’s the best you’ll achieve if you spend $30,000-$80,000 going to Court – so if you can save the money you should probably both accept a deal in that range unless you are prepared for an expensive drawn out battle. The assets they (lawyers and Courts) will assess include everything you both brought to the relationship including cash, property, superannuation, cars, other assets, which are all dropped into one ‘pool’ for you to fight over. The longer you have been together, the less relevant it is who began with what in the relationship.

You may need to sell the family home in order to access your share of the equity to be able to move on. Their lawyer will possibly use delays relating to sale of the home to coax you into agreeing on things you would not normally, knowing you’re probably in a rush to sell to be able to set up a new home. Don’t rush – if you have to, rent a cheap place to last 3-6 months that the legal to-and-fro might take. Don’t be afraid to ask for help from friends and family, you’d help them in the same situation.

For guys particularly, try not to increase your use of alcohol or other substances to deal with anger, stress and anxiety. Instead, eat healthy and try to exercise including aerobic and weight lifting exercises, or boxing/martial arts/impact sports. Your mind will be sharper if you’re working out issues while physically fit and well-rounded.

Ignore the ex’s lawyer’s suggestions you are “required” to do anything when they write to you. Ignore any “passion” assets they try to seize like the chainsaw or the Harley (or the Chanel perfume and Gucci bags!) – these are intended to distract you from the big picture that you’re essentially getting shafted. Gather the correspondence from their lawyer, seek advice from the Facebook group mentioned above, or others to find a lawyer you can trust. Do the grunt work yourself – put their correspondence in a folder, write down your aims and what you’re prepared to accept for you and your lawyer only, tell your lawyer you want to minimize time arguing and want to exercise every right you have to restart a new life without being left screwed out of assets you have a right to. The last thing you want is a protracted Court battle, because no one wins except the lawyers. You still need a good lawyer on your side, and as mentioned make sure you’re referred by someone of the same gender as you who had good experiences with the lawyer.

CHILD SUPPORT AGENCY

First Phone Call

When you receive the initial phone call from CSA, they will tell you your ex has opened a case with them, and give you information about your obligations. Tell them you have gained a basic understanding of the role of CSA, and you have every intention of meeting your legal commitments to Child Support. If they ask you to make any comment beyond that, tell them you need time to read and understand the requirements they send you. Ask the CSA representative if they will organise online access for you to a “Mygov” account linked to your Child Support online account. Tell them once you have that online access you plan to correspond with CSA in relation to how you can help support your children, using those official channels.

Next Contact

Once you have received access to Mygov and CSA Online :

In the Gmail account you have created for your child support / family issues, write an email addressed only to yourself with the following. At the top of the email write “Diary Note : sent to CSA using CSA Online on (date)” – the email should include the following **IN YOUR OWN WORDS** (CSA will treat you worse if they feel you copy and pasted someone else’s words, just trust me!) :

“Dear Sir / Madam

Thank you for your advice that a case has been opened to ensure support of my child/ren.

As you may appreciate, this is a stressful and confusing time for me as I adjust to a future away from the family home I helped create, and am uncertain about how and when I will be permitted to spend time with my child/ren. I am aware I am now in a high risk group as a separated parent facing conflicting advice and varying demands placed on me by various people, practitioners and organisations. My hope is I remain healthy and proactive in being able to provide a positive influence on my child/ren and support for their future needs.

Based on my understanding of risk factors as they may impact me, I request that you do not contact me by telephone, as such unsolicited contact is likely to have a detrimental impact on my mental health and wellbeing, particularly when I cannot be sure of my privacy if I am called unexpectedly. Please note I do not answer unidentifiable numbers, and I do not check voicemail messages, therefore it should be assumed any such contact has not successfully reached me, rather than indicate I am unresponsive.

I request all future communications between us be carried out using email, or if this is not possible, using your CSA Online system. I commit to responding as promptly as possible to your communications, as soon as I am confident I understand my position in relation to your messages.

This may require me to seek legal or other advice, which I reserve the right to do. Where legally required to respond in a certain timeframe, I request I receive adequate notice and clear written instructions of what is required. I understand Australia Post may create delays and ask that if you choose to send me mail using this method, you verify the official post date from Australia Post, and contact me using CSA Online to advise I should expect correspondence, and in return I will confirm the date of actual receipt. I ask that you allow me sufficient time following actual receipt to consider and respond appropriately to your correspondence.

I request that any time CSA advises me I am required to take or to not take any particular course of action, that CSA identify the specific Section/s of the relevant Act/s that were referred to that impact the directions given to me, and include any interpretation of each Section CSA has made in relation to my Case.

For reasons of protecting my personal privacy, I also request any information I provide to you in writing remains confidential and is never provided in whole or part to the other party to this Case, either verbally or in writing, unless my express written permission is granted beforehand. I understand there are situations where you are legally obliged to share certain information, but I request you specifically alert me when requesting information from me, if any information I am asked to supply may be distributed to another party, before I am asked or directed to provide any response.

Thank you again for letting me know of the creation of my Case with the CSA. I commit to doing everything possible to support my child/ren and look forward to hearing from you via email or CSA Online.

Yours sincerely

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Copy the entire text of the above letter, then hit Send to yourself using Gmail so you have a separate record.

Log into your Mygov account, log into the Child Support service and visit Messages / Send us a message.

Choose This is about <Agreements>
and
How would you like us to respond? <Via CSA Online>

PASTE the content of the above email into the text field (My message) and Submit (Send).

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From that point, DO NOT answer calls from private numbers. Change your voicemail message to say you are no longer checking voicemail but friends and family should text or email you if they need to contact you.

You just have to trust past CSA “çustomers”, you will receive much more careful and considered contact from CSA if they need to manage your case in writing.

If you decide to accept phone calls or speak to CSA, note in some states of Australia you have the legal right to record a phone conversation you are a party to, without advising the other party. You should check the legislation and arrange to record all phone calls with CSA in a compliant manner. Many people claim when they request call recordings that CSA have made, these recordings ‘go missing’. If you have your own recording of all conversations, you are at least offered the protection of having a complete record.

Good luck out there. It’s probably not going to be pleasant, but with the right advice and knowledge of your rights and responsibilities, you’ll be in better shape than me!