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Worry about SSAT intimidating approach during pre-hearing stage

ection1;}>The ex-husband has continually suggested to the child support agency (CSA) that I and my new husband have numerous investments and because of that I should have to pay a higher level of child support. This is far from the truth but has been an accusation leveled at me for the last 5 years because of the relentless campaign from the ex-husband, exaggerating her income, assets and lifestyle. I have tended not to give them full information about my financial circumstances as I am sick and tired of defending myself and then have to repeatedly do this as the ex-partner brings back the same documents every time.

I have repeatedly refuted these claims and to date my child support obligation has been based on my income. The ex-husband has not been working since April 2009 (and still not working) and made application to change the CSA assessment in September.

As a result of this application a decision was made to base my child support obligation on my previous income ($57, 000) even though I have not been working since November 6th 2009. CSA as they tend to do made an arbitrary decision that I had resigned to avoid paying child support when in fact my husband had been transferred for his work. This decision was appealed and overturned with a portion of that amount in arrears but with a reduced obligation which has now been decreased to nil by CSA after the eldest of my two children turned 18 in March.

The ex-husband has appealed this and the matter is going through the Social Security Appeals Tribunal (SSAT). In a the pre-hearing part of this process the facilitator was fairly heavy handed suggesting that a block of land that is joint names (myself and current husband) could be sold to pay for a yet-to-be decided amount of child support given that I am not working at present (we initially were relocated within Australia pending visa approval and have only just arrived in the USA).

They questioned me about property settlement amount (paid in about 2003) and the level of income I was on in 2003-2005 etc. The SSAT rules seem to state that they can cannot deal with matters going back further than 18 months but this does not appear to be the stance they have taken.

The SSAT appeared in this forum to take the stance that the custodial parent does not have the same obligation to earn an income; the onus falls to the non-custodial parent. Hence I am not confident that a fair hearing will be likely. The Pre-hearing case manager? indicated would want bank statements and another letter from my husband's employer.

The only bank account I have is a joint one, in this there are details of my husband's salary which should not be up for review (he is not self-employed), I am concerned about how far back they may request the bank accounts details and do I have the right to provide the statements but take out the salary amount figure? I was advised that if I do not submit the statements then I would no longer be a partly to the appeal which of course means that if they do something I have no further rights of appeal, even if it is a poiint of law.
I'm not saying that it's right but if you do have this land then it can be considered an asset of yours (half yours) and that by not using that asset to gain is considered as income alienation.

Here's what the CSA guide says:
CSA Guide (extract) - 2.6.14: Reason 8 - a parents income, property, financial resources, or earning capacity said
Asset rich but income poor

In some cases a parent might have substantial property and assets but a low income used in the child support assessment. CSA may consider the parent's property and assets, as well as any income, in deciding the appropriate rate of child support to be paid (Abela and Abela (1995) FLC 92-568 and Bendeich and Bendeich (1993) FLC 92-355).

CSA will take into account that child support is intended to meet the day-to-day needs of the child, when considering a parent's capacity to contribute to supporting a child.

It is not sufficient for a parent to say that they are unable to pay child support because their assets produce little or no income or will only produce income at some point in the future. CSA will consider whether the parent has the capacity to restructure their financial affairs to produce an income stream from which to contribute to child support. In these cases, CSA may:

    * identify the relevant assets, determine ownership of such assets and enquire as to any structures designed to divest assets;
    * consider whether the assets are income-producing assets and, if so, when such income will be produced;
    * ascertain the value of the assets;
    * ascertain the parent's ability to convert the assets, or some of the assets, to cash;
    * consider the parent's ability to finance his or her lifestyle; and
    * consider the impact of any property settlement on the parent's assets.

CSA does not have to identify any specific source, property or asset from which a parent should meet the obligation to contribute to the support of the child. CSA need only consider the parent's financial resources as a whole, including any capacity to borrow against the assets (Dwyer v McGuire (1993) FLC 92-420).
Here's a link to the relevant section in the guide The CSA Guide - 2.6.14: Reason 8 - a parents income, property, financial resources, or earning capacity.

I'd suggest a good look.

It does appear that S110B limits applications to parties so it looks as though you will have to supply what has been requested to be able to contest the SSAT decision in court.

Further Question

The Land formed part of the consideration for a house sale that might have left us unable to a/ Sell the house or b/ Rent the house given its location.  A further query is they have requested the bank account statements for the last 9 months am I able to blot out the salary amounts for my husband?

I can see nowhere under reason 8 that says the salary of other partner is to be considered but am I kidding myself and in essence my husband may have to pay child support?

I am unable to comment too much with the scant information provided except to suggest you consult an advocacy group and seek their advice.  One rather aggressive approach would be to tell the SSAT that you cannot supply the personal information of another person because they won't let you hand it over to them and see where it gets you.

A few random thoughts here.  It seems you have no income they can attach themselves to anyway, so collection action is likely to fail.  If a debt builds up, it builds up.  Do you live in the USA?  If so, how long will it take for the international arrangements to catch up with you?  How effective are they?  How old is the younger child?  

I have noticed that the SSAT has "starched up" recently in pre case conferences.  It is as though they are seeking to use the pre case conference as a way of getting people to withdraw their appeals - suspect it is a product of the case load.  

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