Recovering child and spousal support payments

How we enforce payments of overdue amounts of child support and spousal support.

Paying a debt

You need to address any debts you have as soon as possible. If you can’t pay the amount in full, you can make a payment arrangement by calling the Child Support enquiry line.

There are a few reasons a payment may be overdue. It may be because of one of the following:

  • the payment was late or not made
  • the assessment changed
  • the receiving parent or person asked us to collect an unpaid amount from a Private Collect period
  • there was a change in your circumstances and you didn’t let us know.

If your circumstances change, you need to let us know as soon as possible. This may include changes to your:

  • contact details
  • care arrangements
  • income.

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

Sign in to myGov

You can also do this by:

If you don’t tell us about a change you may get a debt or an overpayment.

Late payment penalties

If you don’t pay your child or spousal support in full and on time, we may apply penalties on the outstanding amount. You pay the penalty amount to the Australian Government, not to the receiving parent. If you pay the overdue child support, we may reduce or remove the penalty from your account.

Missed payments

If you miss a payment, you need to catch up as soon as possible.

If you can’t pay in full, you can make a payment arrangement. Use the Statement of financial details for debt repayment form to tell us about your financial situation. This will help us work out a payment arrangement with you.

If you can’t pay your debt, you need to call us on the Child Support enquiry line. If you don’t contact us we’ll enforce payment of the overdue amount. We’ll also do this if we can’t come to a payment arrangement with you.

Recovering overdue child and spousal support

Under legislation, we have powers to recover overdue child and spousal support. We can do this through:

  • income support payment deductions
  • deducting from tax refunds
  • working with third parties
  • employer or bank account deductions
  • litigation
  • prosecution.

We can issue overseas travel bans to recover overdue child support.

Please contact us before the due date if you can’t pay child or spousal support.

Redirection of refunds to other debts

If you pay too much child or spousal support, you may be owed money. But if you have existing child or spousal support debts, we’ll use this money to pay them first. After your child support debt is paid, we’ll refund any money left over to you.

Income support payment deductions

We can collect any outstanding child support from either:

Tax return lodgement

If you pay or get child support you must lodge either a:

  • tax return
  • non-lodgement advice if the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) says you don’t need to lodge a tax return.

Read about if you need to lodge a tax return on the ATO website.

Tax refunds

Most parents pay tax in Australia. We may use a tax refund to pay any outstanding child or spousal support amounts. This may still happen if you have a payment arrangement in place. If this would cause you hardship, call us on the Child Support enquiry line. Do this before you lodge your tax return.

Third parties

In some situations, we work with other organisations and third parties to collect any unpaid child or spousal support.

Employer or bank account deductions

If a parent doesn’t pay child or spousal support we can use our powers to collect amounts owed.

Overseas travel bans

We can stop a paying parent from leaving Australia when all the following apply to their situation:

  • they plan to travel overseas
  • they have an overdue amount or overpayment
  • they don’t come to a suitable arrangement to pay the overdue amount.

We do this with a Departure Prohibition Order.

This prevents the paying parent from leaving Australia until they either:

  • pay the overdue amount
  • agree to a suitable payment arrangement.

We don’t need a court order to prevent a paying parent from leaving Australia.

We encourage people to let us know if they have information that may help us collect unpaid amounts.

For example, if you know a parent with overdue amounts who plans to travel outside Australia.

Litigation

We can take legal action to collect any outstanding amounts. We only do this if other collection methods don’t work. We’ll do this if there’s an asset or income stream in the paying person’s name.

Prosecution

We may prosecute for serious actions or omissions involving criminal behaviour.

Child support investigations

We match data from other sources and act on tip-offs to identify customers whose income doesn’t match their lifestyle. If you’re dishonest about your income, we’ll find out. You may have to pay more child support or pay it back.

We investigate income from the cash economy. For example, cash in hand can be common in building and other industries.

We also investigate income that’s not from salary or wages. For example, situations where companies, trusts or partnerships hide or reduce taxable income and child support.

We also investigate people who legitimately reduce taxable income and fringe benefits to pay less child support. We may use these amounts to calculate a more accurate child support assessment.

In serious cases, we can use optical surveillance.

We encourage people to report suspected fraud or let us know if they have information about someone who’s earning income we don’t know about.

Recovering overpayments

Read more about how we recover child support overpayments.

Page last updated: 4 April 2024.
QC 29946