Child Support in the US and Australia: What’s Different Down Under?

child support in the US vs AustraliaIn a recent article on, the child support system in Australia was examined. How is child support different “down under”? While the United States and Australia may be geographically distant, the complaints regarding the Aussie system ring familiar here in the US.

Child Support paid late, not at all, or not in the full amount

Aussie single mothers reported problems with actually receiving child support. Like the US, Australian payments can be made thru the government, similar to our payment through probation departments. Obligors are frequently late or do not pay enough. In New Jersey, the county probation system is responsible for bringing enforcement cases to the courts. However, how effective enforcement is in New Jersey is a matter of debate.

Low wage earning obligors do not contribute meaningfully to the actual costs of raising children

This is certainly a common complaint here in New Jersey, for both low and high wage earners. People are regularly surprised at how little child support they will receive as calculated by the Child Support Guidelines. In 2007, in response to widespread criticism, the New Jersey Supreme Court modified the guidelines to reduce the included income levels. The Court had recently modified the guidelines to include families earning up to $4500 per week. Divorce Attorneys and various interest groups argued that the increased guidelines resulted in inappropriately low child support awards for upper income families. While not fully accepting the criticisms, the Court did reduce the income levels covered by the Guidelines to $3600 per week.

Problems with child support staff

Australians who receive child support complain about dealing with the bureaucracy of the system, including harsh or aggressive responses from staff. They also find they are provided with little information on how to navigate the system, and sometimes find that they are provided with misinformation. Here in New Jersey, complaints about the probation system are common. On, for example, a Mercer county mom states, “New Jersey Child support is horrible…you [cannot] reach anyone live, and when you go there and talk to someone, they change it all around.”

So, what are the solutions? Australian recipients of child support suggested more stringent enforcement procedures for non-payers or late payers, more education for staff and for the public at large regarding the procedures for establishing child support, and rethinking the cost of parenting.

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