10 March 2008
Dads the winners in new child support appeals process
By Kelvin Bissett
Thousands of separated parents - generally fathers - are making use of new appeal rights against the Child Support Agency, with many overturning decisions on payments and income assessments.
A Daily Telegraph investigation can reveal that 1,190 parents unhappy with Child Support Agency decisions lined up to use new hearing rights with the Social Security Appeals Tribunal (SSAT) granted early last year.
In about half of valid appeals so far determined, Child Support Agency decisions have been modified, usually resulting in adjustments in payments.
The high number of challenges in the SSAT can be revealed as the agency begins sending out 1.5 million new payment assessments in the lead up to a new child support assessment system to take effect from July 1.
The new system is the biggest reform since the Child Support (Registration and Collection) Act was passed by Federal Parliament in 1988, setting up the agency.
The existing fixed percentage payments regime will be dumped in favour of a more complex formula which takes into account both parents' incomes, higher expenses as children get older and the financial needs of children in second families.
Of the 581 valid appeals determined by the SSAT to date, about half, 280, resulted in the original Child Support Agency decision being changed. NSW parents have lodged 246 appeals with 107 decisions rebuffing the agency.
Both the Child Support Agency and the SSAT refused to state how many of the appeals were lodged by men but fathers are usually the paying parent so are more likely to lodge appeals.
Before the SSAT was given appeal powers, parents unhappy with decisions by the Child Support Agency had no recourse other than to pursue the expensive and time-consuming avenue of fighting it in the courts.
A spokesman for the Child Support Agency said the agency was prohibited by law from releasing any details on cases heard by the tribunal.
But he said more than half of all cases were disputes over assessment of child support payments, with the remaining 43 per cent concerning "care, the credit of non-agency payments and acceptance of estimated incomes".
Men's Rights Agency director Sue Price said it was good news that Child Support decisions were being successfully challenged, but she called upon the SSAT to make its decisions public.
Ms Price said present laws meant any identification of individual cases could lead to heavy fines or a jail sentence.
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