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SSAT reduced child support payment by 66% or $10,000pa

Well here is my long drama with the CSA and SSAT. My ex and I have two daughter together currently aged 14 and 11. We seperated in Dec 2002 and have always had a private arrangement in relation to support payments - my ex is a self employed farmer and is the first to admit that his taxable income is not a true reflection of his circumstances. For the past two years 2008 and 2009 he has paid a total of $1716.OO per month, by way of private school fees, books, private health cover and a cash portion to myself. He has always been fair in this regard.

I re-married in Oct 2009 and 17 days after received an email from him stating that he can no longer afford to make these payment. My current husband and I were in a defacto relationship for 5 years and my ex re-married about 4 years ago. I tried to discuss this with him, but he said there was no room for negotiation and he would only be paying for the school fees, approx $7,500pa.

I contacted the CSA and lodged a Change of Assessment, they reassessed his taxable income and found that his income should be set at the "conservative" rate of $80,000, plus he would be responsible for paying half of the private school fees. This equated to $17,600pa payable by him. By now I am sure that some of you are thinking how generous this is, but please keep in mind that my ex is a wealthy farmer with a very good accountant and this is less than he had voluntarily paid for the last two years.

Ex lodged an appeal against this amount and it was reassess by another Senior Case Officer, who once again found this amount to be reasonable and that the decision should stand.

Ex then lodged an appeal to the SSAT - the tribunal of two panel members heard our case on the 15 July 2010. The decision came back 2 weeks later stating that he was to pay a total of $6,800pa in child support and that he wasn't resonsible for the private school fees as he did not sign the enrolment form.

My ex lives 4 hours away, there was no private schooling available in the town we lived so therefor our daughter went to public school. When I moved they were on the waitlist for 2 years before a position became available. When they started going to private school I paid the fees for the first two years, ex then contacted me and said that because the fees would be inceasing due to one entering high school, that he would take care of them from then on. He contacted the school and had the fees re-directed to him for two years.

Upon receiving the SSAT decision I noticed some rather large inconsistancies in the hearing :

Ex stated that the farm paid for all of his personal bills along with a personal car loan, private health cover, maintenance, mortage and he also pays himself a "cash drawng" of $500 per week. The SSAT when determining his income only included the cash drawing, half of the telephone account, maintenance and a small portion of cost involved with a personal vehicle. They chose not to include the mortgage and car loan payments or any other bills. They also chose to assess his child support commitment on his net income, but due to the fact that I salary sacrifice a portion of my way, they used a "real gross figure" to increase my assessment income.

After a week of frustration I chose to look into appeling this decision - I contacted the SSAT and was placed thru to my Case Manager who strongly encouraged me to send a letter to the State Business Manager. He advised me that these matters were taken seriously and it would be dealt with promptly. I asked if he needed a copy of the transcript - which would personnally cost me $400 to obtain and he advised me not to go ahead with this as they have access to this recording if required.

I phoned back the following day and was told that the manager had had a chance to look at my concerns and that a letter was in the mail - he could not give me a verbal result, but faxed the letter… was a standard letter, basically saying that the SSAT decision was final and that it could only be appealed in Court on a matter of law.

I phoned back my Case Manager and asked why he didn't give me the correct proceduce to appeal, he stated that it is the SSAT policy to try to obtain the complaint in writing. I now feel that it is an information gathering tactic. I then asked to talk to the State Manger who signed the letter and was told that this wasn't possible, when I asked if he could phone me back I was told that I could only converse with him in writing.

Not very happy now - so I asked CM to clarify the procedure after the hearing. He stated the the two members make the decision. When I asked if anybody checks that decision for accuracy he said that it is only checked for "spelling and grammatical" errors.

So basically what is the role of the CSA, if their decision can be objected twice, just because you may not like the decision, why not just take all COA to the SSAT. In order to object the reduction of $10,000pa payable for my children I have to go through the court or the AAT (at the cost of $777.00), I will also be required to seek private legal advise (too scared to think of this cost ATM),  as well having to aquire a copy of the transcripts (at the cost of $400.00)

I will go ahead with my objection and have also contacted the Commonwealth Ombudsman in relation to the SSAT process. My main question surrounds the fairness of two tribunal members being able to change a decision so drastically without any new evidence being presented and without any checking from a senior member and the confidentiallity surrounding the SSAT decision and whether I can pass a copy on to the Ombudsman.
Considering that the CSA COA team have a record of proving their inability to perform basic small business accounting and that they frequently make decisions outside of the legislation in their determinations, it would be quite likely that SSAT has made decisions that are closer to the interpretation of the legislation.

What you have stated appears to coincide with the intent of the legislation. That is that business expenses, unless shown to be of a personal nature, are to be taken into consideration according to Gylseman, which the COA frequently, if not always mis-interpret. As have SSAT in the past. These words from a Federal Magistrate shows this distortion of the legislation:

FM Sexton in Ladd & Child Support Registrar & Arnor said
I do not accept the submission that the Tribunals approach was consistent with the Gyselman decision, nor that Gyselman should be distinguished because it concerned the debts of an individual. Gyselman makes clear that the assessment of financial resources required to be undertaken must be a realistic one, based on the evidence available.
. It would appear that SSAT have listened to the FM whilst the CSA have ignored The FM and still continue to act contrary to the legislation to then act in contravention if the very object of the legislation as set out in section 4 of the child support assessment act.

With regard to the business expenses I believe that SSAT have acted in a fairer manner than the CSA and that in reality your complaint should most likely be against the CSA for incompetence and for them misleading you.

With regard to private school. It is clear that the move to put children into private school was a unilateral one. It is only the fact, if what you say is correct, that the other parent assisted you. However, I guess any would be very suspicious of what you have said and would be more likely to believe that the most likely fact is that the other parent was paying an agreed upon (i.e. he paid you took) amount of CS. If you put this to a Federal Magistrate at court, then you could be giving the FM an indication that you may be distorting the facts and thus exploiting the children for your own monetary gain. Such an impression given could result in other claims that you make as being taken as in a similar vein.

On this point the amounts that you suggest do not appear to correlate with what should be. You claim the other parent is paid $500 per week by the business. This equates to $26,000 by my calculations. There would be a $6000 reduction to take into consideration the tax free threshold. Thus an ATI of a maximum of $20,000. For two children, assuming that the the other has no parent access to the children (access would if anything reduce the annual rate), the result would be an annual rate of CS of about $102 which would then be increased to the minimum annual rate of $360 ($6.90 per week). Instead you quote an annual rate of CS around $6800. Again based upon no access to the 2 children then the ATI would be around $45500. However none of this is considering your earnings which likely affects the CS, otherwise you would have no reason to mention super contributions. The result of you having an income that affects CS would then result in a decrease so that the $6800 that you mention would actually indicate that the other parent's ATI is even greater than the $45500 that it would have to be to pay an annual rate of $6800. Obviously if you wish me to undertake more accurate calculations then you can provide all the relevant amounts i.e. your taxable income and pre-tax superannuation contributions and also the level of care, that either yourself or the other parent has for each child.

Basically what you have put forward is economic with the truth to say the least. Your mention of "information gathering" seems a little curious, does that indicate that you do have something to hide? Perhaps you need to be aware how others may see such a statement as such and I'd say that Federal Magistrates are very likely to be a lot shrewder than myself.

My advice would be that you need to make the facts you supply fit the figures that you supply and also that the facts are consistent. You may then have a case. However as I have said elsewhere on FLWG. The likelihood of getting a fairer decision that is likely more compliant with the correct interpretation of the legislation increases as you traverse the hierarchy of the appeals process. You may wish to take heed that the next result may well be that such fairness makes an impact in the same direction that you have already experienced and thus that you may well be getting more in CS now than after a subsequent appeal.
Thanks for your insight Mike,
I feel that you may have misread some of the information that i supplied. So i will try to clear up a few of the facts.
In relation to my wage - i mentioned salary sacrificing, not superannuation. I work for a Non-Government Organisationt that allows us to salary package part of my pay. I have no problems with the SSAT using a "real-gross figure" for my wage as this is common practice.
I mentioned that my ex income was "Ex stated that the farm paid for all of his personal bills along with a personal car loan, private health cover, maintenance, mortage and he also pays himself a "cash drawng" of $500 per week. The SSAT when determining his income only included the cash drawing, half of the telephone account, maintenance and a small portion of cost involved with a personal vehicle. They chose not to include the mortgage and car loan payments or any other bills.". I never said that the SSAT assessed his income on his drawings only. The figures used are as follows :
Personal Drawings $26,000
Personal Car Costs $1,319
Personal Telephone Costs $1,722
Pesonal Food $418
Rental Income $8,000
Sand Income $6,000
Additional Child Support payments $9,400
The total of the SSAT determination of the financial resources available was $50,759. This is a net figure as all of these amounts used are cash in hand figures.
So my query was why was my income assessed on a gross figure but ex's a net figure.
It seems they have also been inconsistant with what they have included and what they haven't. As stated above ex told them that the business pays his mortgage and personal car loan as well.
I feel that you have been quite harsh on your judgement and some of your statements are unfair.
Ex and I had a private arrangement for 7 years and as I stated he has always been fair - as for the (he paid you took) statement isn't that what normally happens - whether it is a private arrangement or not ?? I have 100% care of the girls and ex has access whenever he wants, there have never been any court proceedings regarding access and never will be as we both believe the girls need as many people to love them as possible - including step parents.
I do value your advice but urge you to be fair in judgement of circumstances, I to would like a realistic figure to be used to determine the amount of child support to be paid but it needs to be remembered that we are not all in a position for a business to pay our mortgage and personal car loans as well as our day to day bills.
As for your comment regarding "information gathering" by the SSAT - i have absolutely nothing to hide and as a PAYGer this is obvious, I was constantly asked by my CM at SSAT if I was going to be proceeding with my appeal, so felt that they were trying to get a heads up.
Please also note that I am also in a reverse situation were my current husand is the payer, so I do understand both sides of the equation and understand how payers often feel they are discriminated against.
uhhm, using your figure of $50,759 for the other parent's ATI would put your ATI at approximately $123,500 to come to an annual rate of CS of approximately $6800.

However, you have stated that this includes $9400 of child support income. My understanding is that child support income is not considered as income so I can't see why this $9400 has been added.

Assuming that is the case, then the annual rate only changes to $11358 if the ATI of the other parent is adjusted to $80,000. Thus a difference of $4558 annually not the $10,000 that you claim as the difference. To create the 10,000 difference you would have to inflate the other parent's income to around $150,000 (annual rate becomes $17,198 with your ATI at the $123500 that you have indicated that it should be).

However, you now indicate, there are other CS children and that the other parent receives CS for. The calculations are then somewhat different as a multi-case allowance, and perhaps even a multi-case cap would be introduced into the calculations. However, these would reduce the annual rates of CS and thus reduce the difference and therefore result in an increase in your ATI and very likely go beyond the bounds of the income cap to facilitate the $10,000 difference that you say is the result. Again the figures simply do not appear to correlate with what should be.

You claim I'm being unfair in some statements. Which statements do you believe are not fair? On the same "fairness" note why have you not supplied all of the information that I requested? You obviously would have no objection to disclosing person financial information, as you have considered it fair to provide such information regarding the other parent. Obviously if you also have other CS children then you should state how many and their ages (oldest 3 only are taken into consideration). Oh, I'd also need the ages of the CS children of the other parent. Another factor, just in case you overlook it, is what are called relevant dependant children. That is children to whom either you or the other parent, but not both of you, are the biological or adoptive parent. Again the number and their ages would be required.
Not sure how you worked out my ATI to be $123,500 ?? I am more than happy to supply all of the figures for your calculations.
I earn $1,500net per fortnight and pay $110.00 per fortnight in tax - due to salary sacrificy SSAT chose to use a "real gross figure" of $45,000pa. No probs - common practice.
I have supplied the figures the SSAT used to calculate ex "financial resources" - they are the exact figures. The fact that they chose to include the $9,400 in mantenance is a mystery to me - as is the fact they chose not to include a large variety of personal expenses paid by the business. Unfortunately you can not get an explaination of the decision from the SSAT.
We had 2 children together currently aged 14 and 11 and ex has a boy who turns 2 in December and another one due any week now.
I have 100% care. My step son who resides with us has never been taken into consideration - and rightly so. I never indicated that "there are other CS children and that the other parent receives CS for" I stated "my current husand is the payer".
The query regarding the $10,000 difference is because as i stated in my earlier emails CSA COA calculated CS payments on his income of $80K, plus he was required to pay half of the private school fees being $4,650 - he only had one child at the time of that assessment. So the $4558 that you suggest plus the school fees of $4650 = $9,258. Difference in calculations is because you used an inflated ATI for mysellf.
I feel that you think that I am tying to mislead you with the figures, but i am not - i have been truthful regarding all aspects of this sitaution and feel that i have justified this throughout.
I really do value your advice and look forward to hearing your opinion on the fact that both parties are to be treated equally and the fact that ex income has not been grossed up and a large number of personal expenses have not been included.
Jiorshan said
Not sure how you worked out my ATI to be $123,500 ?? Quite simple. I simply used the available information to determine what your ATI would have to be in order to come to the annual rate of CS. That is the other parent's ATI of $50,759, there being two children where the other parent has no care, one being over 13.

Now if your ATI was $0, then using the calculators the annual rate of CS would be $8236. This is above the rate. The only variable, considering the available information, is your ATI. Increasing it (in stages) until your ATI until both ATI's are equal results in relatively small reductions in the CS. An increased combined ATI's = increase to the cost of child, but a decrease in the other parent's PIP. The Parents Income Percentage (PIP) is that parents percentage of the combined child support income (CSI). The CCSI is the sum of each parent's Child Support Income (CSI). The CSI is the parent's ATI (this includes rental income, salary sacrifice and other amounts), less any Relevant Dependant Child Amount (RDCA) (as described in a previous post) and less any Multi-Case Allowance (MCA). The available information didn't indicate any RDCA or an MCA (as detailed below this is a very significant factor).

When your ATI reaches the same level as the other parent's ATI then the annual rate of CS is $8038, there is still a significant reduction required to reach the $6800. The calculations continue. At $100,000 the annual rate has declined to $7354. Obviously still a lot further to go until $123,500 where the annual rate is $6804. This task of reverse engineering the other parent's ATI from the other variables is relatively simple using either the CSA's estimator or the calculator that is available on this site (I used the latter (Advanced Calculator) as it's simpler to use and it also caters for the scenarios that the CSA's Estimator cannot undertake).

Jiorshan said
I feel that you think that I am tying to mislead you with the figures, but i am not - i have been truthful regarding all aspects of this situation and feel that i have justified this throughout.
Actually I believe the inflation and deflation has been introduced by the CSA and I believe the whole issue is that they in misinterpreting the legislation, which appears to fit very well with the clear Modus Operandi that has been demonstrated by the CSA in decisions that are generally available, have misled yourself. I believe the CSA have inflated the other parent's income whilst also deflating your income and that all SSAT have done is apply a more correct interpretation of the legislation.

For example the school fees; no evidence appears to exist to support the intention of both parent's for this type of education. You say previous payments were for this but not for CS. The other parent obviously says otherwise. I believe in such a scenario a court would consider CS as the more important payment and err on the other parent's side. A court could also consider that for a parent to willingly pay the fees then there would very likely be a reasonably good rapport between the separated parents and that enrolment forms would have been signed by both parents. Perhaps a moot point, although perhaps not as FM's handling CS will also likely handle Family Law, to unilaterally enrol a child is contrary to shared responsibility. Although this shouldn't affect the CS decisions as such, a FM might consider this when trying to determine disputed information e.g. the school fees. Perhaps an SRL would comment on this aspect.

With regard to private use, again you are likely basing this on CSA determinations. Which again have a record of taking things, sometimes the totally ridiculous (like years old business loan applications on at least two separate occasions that I'm aware of), to determine the highest income for of the paying parent that they think they can get away with. An example, generally available, was setting a paying parent's income to $90,000 (or so), upon objection it was lowered to $62,000 and then upon appeal to $58,000. At the same time the other parent's income had been set artificially low at $25,000 when it was determined that it should have been $45,000. The CSA also have a record of considering what a business receives is the personal income, and at the same time considering that business expenses are the businesses. Any person capable of basic accounting can see that this is not fair not only to the parent being so irresponsibly and wrongly treated, but to all taxpayers who have to bear the cost of such decisions. For example as there is rental income, the rented property is a business concern and thus it is highly likely that the mortgage covers this and perhaps the land from which the sand is extracted. However I personally cannot see how sand extraction is a personal thing rather than a business concern. Myself not being a farmer but having a bit of an understanding about how hard farmers have to work to make a farm viable, I'd suggest that half of costs, such as phones costs, is an excessive proportion of the costs that would not be related to the running of the business. Perhaps if there are any farmers they would contribute and provide more insight.

Anyway the point and advice that I originally stated applies. Basically that is that it is more likely that the CSA have misinterpreted the legislation than SSAT and that there is a good chance that SSAT have not considered all of the misinterpretations that an FM would see and that combining this with the likelihood that the CSA misinterprets the legislation generally to favour their top line, the amount collected or transferred and thus the subsequent reduction of FTB payments, makes it likely that an FM would correct such misinterpretations. and that such corrections could well further reduce the CS liability.

Anyway, some calculations in regard to CS, based upon what now appears to be the scenario (excluding consideration of school fees):

For 80k to the other parent and 45k for you then the annual rate (AR) would be $12800.
For 80K/33k (i.e. salary sacrifice ignored, 39K income less 6k tax free threshold) AR = $13056.
For $50759/45k AR = $6748 (equates to the $6,800).
for $50759/33k AR = $6794.

(Conclusion is that 45k or 33k isn't that important in this scenario due to the increase/decrease in cost of child being compensated for by the opposing decrease/increase in the PIP (which in this scenario is the percentage of the cost of child that is actually paid due to there being no care reduction).  

Now with the relevant dependent child added the figures are quite close (i.e. with $4000 school fees added to either of the first two amounts then approx $17000 and the second set of two amounts are approx 10k less) and quite importantly extreme deviations aren't required to obtain the stated amounts. You mentioned another child and thus RDC. This would result in a reduction of $566 to $6182. Whilst the 11 year old turning 13  would more than compensate for this with an increase of $592 and an annual rate of $6774.

Note that all the above calculations are based upon 2010 calculations; each year underlying amounts change and thus the results differ a little. All of the above calculations have two CS children one 13 or over the other child under 13 and 1 relevant dependent child under 13.  A level of care of 0 nights has been used for the two CS children.

CSA, SSAT and logic

I have read this intercourse with fascination. As someone with a farming business, there are many familiar notes. I have also been through the CSA/SSAT drama and have been impressed (used facetiously) at the way that my ex-partner runs a viable business and claims nil income while I spent two years establishing that my farming interest in another entity (set up when I was a child in case you think it's clever accounting) was not a direct income to me. I have a job now in the city to make ends meet. It costs money to pay trucks, cut hay, build ramps, plough firebreaks etc. These are NOT personal expenses.   I do not wish to denigrate this correspondent but I have to say, for her benefit, that it smacks of opportunism. That is something about which Mike gives good counsel and ought to be considered in her campaign. Although, I must say that the way the CSA acts (reprehensible) and the SSAT (arbitrary and not very forensic) is likely to set the tone for later courts. If the randomness of the Family Court, more a shop-front for lawyers' business models, is any guide, beware.
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