Disputed care and interim periods

Disputed care is when parents stop following a written care arrangement without both parents agreeing to do so. An interim period may apply when this happens.

What disputed care is

Your percentage of care affects how much child support you pay or receive. It can also affect how much Family Tax Benefit (FTB) you get.

We can also use your percentage of care to work out if you meet principal carer rules. We use this to work out if you are eligible for income support payments such as Parenting Payment.

In most cases, we use the actual amount of care each parent provides to work out your percentage of care.

Either parent can dispute their care percentage. If this happens, we may not use the amount of care each parent is providing. Instead, we may use the amount of care set by a written care arrangement for an interim period.

There’s a dispute in care if:

  • there’s a written care arrangement that states how much care each parent should provide
  • care isn’t in line with the written care arrangement
  • the parent with reduced care is taking reasonable action to have the written care arrangement complied with.

A person has reduced care if they’re providing less care than the written care arrangement states.

Disputed care before 29 March 2024

If the care of your child changed before 29 March 2024 the interim period rules are different. To find out more information based on your individual circumstances, call us on the Child Support enquiry line. If you don’t have a child support case but get FTB, call us on the Families line.

What written care arrangements are

A written care arrangement can be any of the following:

  • court order that states how much care each parent or carer will provide
  • parenting plan
  • written care agreement made by the parents.

How we calculate interim periods

Before 15 May 2019, interim periods were different where a child lived in Western Australia and their parents never married. For these parents, the information below applies to care changes you tell us about from 15 May 2019. This is the case even if the care changed before 15 May 2019.

An interim period can be between 4 and 52 weeks long. We use the amount of care in the written care arrangement during the interim period. We use the actual amount of care each parent provides when the interim care period ends.

The type of written care arrangement helps us work out the length of the interim period. We consider how long the arrangement was in place when the disputed care change occurred. Sometimes, we also consider if the person with increased care is participating in family dispute resolution (FDR). Increased care means more care than the written care arrangement states.

Read more about Family mediation and dispute resolution on the Families relationships online website.

What reasonable action is

An interim period may apply when the parent with reduced care takes reasonable action to have the care arrangement followed.

For the parent with reduced care, reasonable action can include:

  • genuine negotiations with the other parent to comply with the care arrangement
  • making or attending an appointment at a Family Relationships centre
  • seeking or obtaining legal advice regarding enforcement of the care arrangement
  • filing an application in a court to have an order enforced.

Sometimes, the interim period may be shorter if the parent with increased care takes reasonable action to participate in FDR.

Read more about FDR on the Attorney-General’s Department website.

Stopping reasonable action

If the parent with reduced care stops taking reasonable action, the interim period will end.

If the parent with increased care stops taking reasonable action, we may extend the interim period. The interim period can also restart in some circumstances if it has already ended.

How court orders affect interim periods

The interim period will start on the day the care changed. The interim period will end on the later of these dates:

  • at the end of the 52 week period starting on the day the court order commenced
  • 26 weeks after the day the care changed if the person with increased care doesn’t take reasonable action
  • 14 weeks after the care changed if the person with increased care is taking reasonable action within a reasonable period.

The interim period may be longer than 14 weeks. This is if the person with increased care takes reasonable action but not within a reasonable period. A reasonable period is usually within 14 days of the care changing, but can be longer.

An example of how court orders affect interim periods

Rachel and James have a son, Ethan. They have a court order setting out the amount of care each of them provides. The court order began on 1 December 2023. It states that Ethan lives with Rachel 50% of the time, and with James 50% of the time.

On 10 April 2024, Ethan doesn’t return to Rachel’s care.

Rachel takes reasonable action in order to get James to comply with the court order. James doesn’t take reasonable action to participate in FDR.

The interim period starts on 10 April 2024.

The interim period will end on the later of:

  • 52 weeks after the court order started - 29 November 2024
  • 26 weeks after the day the care changed - 9 October 2024.

The interim period ends on 29 November 2024, which is 52 weeks after the court order started.

The length of the interim period won’t change if James takes reasonable action to participate in FDR.

How parenting plans and written care agreements affect interim periods

The interim period will start on the day the care changed.

The day the interim period ends depends on when:

  • the disputed care change occurs
  • the parenting plan or written agreement started.

The maximum interim period that can apply is 14 weeks from the day the care changed.

If there are care changes after 38 weeks from the start date of the parenting plan or written care agreement, we may apply a shorter interim period. We can only do this if the person with increased care takes reasonable action.

The interim period will end on the earlier of these dates:

  • 14 weeks after the day the care changed
  • 4 weeks after the day the care changed if the person with increased care takes reasonable action within a reasonable period. This can’t be earlier than 52 weeks after the care arrangement commenced.

The interim period may be longer than 4 weeks. This is if the person with increased care takes reasonable action but not within a reasonable period. A reasonable period is usually within 14 days of the care changing, but can be longer.

Example where care changes after 38 weeks of a parenting plan or written care agreement starting

Robert and Jenny have a parenting plan for their daughter Ella. The parenting plan started on 10 October 2022. Under the plan, Ella lives with Robert 70% of the time, and with Jenny 30% of the time.

On 15 April 2024, Ella doesn’t return to Robert’s care.

Robert takes reasonable action to have the parenting plan complied with.

Jenny arranges FDR meetings for her and Robert at a Family Relationship Centre.

The interim period begins on 15 April 2024. Their parenting plan is more than 38 weeks old and Jenny is taking reasonable action to participate in FDR. This means the interim period will end on 13 May 2024, 4 weeks after it began.

If Jenny stops taking reasonable action within 14 weeks of the care change, we’ll extend the interim period. We will restart if from the day Jenny stopped taking reasonable action if it has ended. The interim period would then end 14 weeks after the care changed. This means it would end on 22 July 2024.

During the interim period, we will use care percentages in the parenting plan to work out the child support assessment. This means we’ll work it out as Jenny having 30% care and Robert having 70% care of Ella. To get child support, a parent or carer must have 35% or more care. As Jenny has less than 35% care, she is not eligible to get child support. This may also mean Jenny pays child support to Robert, even though Ella is in Jenny’s 100% care.

When care arrangements change

Changes to your circumstances could affect your payments. We need to know about any changes that could affect your:

If your Child Support online account is linked to myGov, sign in now to tell us about changes to your circumstances.

Sign in to myGov

If a child’s care arrangements change, you need to tell us as soon as possible. You can call us on the Child Support enquiry line or complete the details of your child’s care arrangements form.

Read more about how your percentage of care affects your payments.

If you pay or get child support and also get FTB, you only have to tell us once. You don’t have to tell both Child Support and Centrelink. If you get an income support payment, such as Parenting Payment, you may need to tell us separately.

Read more about child support and your FTB Part A.

When you don’t agree with a decision

You don’t have to agree with a decision we’ve made. If you don’t, you may be able to ask for a review of the decision.

Read more about reviews and appeals.

Page last updated: 2 April 2024.
QC 44041