Family & Relationship Law 07 June 2021

Payment of Private School Fees After Separation

The breakdown of a relationship can have a significant impact on the financial position of families.   Following separation consideration must be given as to what degree each party will be responsible for providing financial support towards the costs of raising a child or children of the relationship.  This is particularly so when prior to separation there was one household to financially provide for, however, after separation there will generally be two households to financially provide for on a similar level of income.

The financial strain that accompanies the breakdown of a relationship may give rise to issues regarding the payment of children’s school fees and associated expenses, particularly where they attend a private school.

What happens if I can’t afford my child’s school fees after a separation?

If you can no longer afford your child’s school fees following separation, then attempts should be made to reach agreement with the other parent regarding each parent’s ongoing contributions towards the school fees and other associated educational expenses.

If agreement is reached, a private Child Support Agreement can be entered into by both parents setting out how each parent will pay and/or contribute towards school fees and other associated school expenses of children.

This can then avoid the need to seek child support payments through Services Australia (formally the Child Support Agency) and can be in addition to periodic child support being paid for the benefit of a child or children.

Can Services Australia (formally the Child Support Agency) deal with payment of school fees?

School fees are an expense considered within a child support assessment undertaken by Services Australia. However, the formula used to assess the amount of child support to be paid is based on a child or children attending a public/government school.

Where a private Child Support Agreement cannot be agreed between parents, then one parent can make an application to Services Australia pursuant to a Change of Assessment Application.  Services Australia will then review that application to determine if the costs of private education for a child or children should be added into an overall assessment of child support to be paid.

One of the key requirements to changing a child support assessment is that there must be special circumstances relating to the costs of maintaining a child or children, which are significantly affected because the child or children are being cared for, educated and/or trained in the manner that was expected by their parents.

Upon special circumstances being met, Services Australia can then vary the amount of child support assessed to include an amount for private school fees and other educational expenses.

Can the Court make orders for payment of school fees?

An application to the Court for orders relating to child support and the payment of school fees can only be made in limited circumstances.

Examples of where limited circumstances may apply and an application to the Court could be possible may include the following:

  • Where the parents have other family law matters already in Court;
  • An application for a departure order has been refused by Services Australia (that is, the review and appeals channels have been exhausted through Services Australia);
  • Either of the parents are ineligible for a child support assessment through Services Australia;
  • The child is over 18 years of age and, in limited circumstances, an application for adult child maintenance can be made.

Therefore, where there is no agreement about the payment of child support including the payment of school fees and other associated educational expenses, you cannot easily make an application for these issues to be dealt with by the Court.

Can consent orders be made for the payment of school fees?

Most parents will be eligible to apply for an assessment of child support through Services Australia.  Due to this avenue of assessment and determination for the payment of child support, generally, consent orders regarding child support matters which include the payment of school fees and other expenses, cannot be included in consent orders between parents.

The payment child support if not determined through Services Australia can still be formalised by consent through a private Child Support Agreement.

If you require assistance in relation to payment of child support, school fees, or other expenses for your children, or would like to enter into a private Child Support Agreement, our team of specialist Family & Relationship Lawyers can help.   Contact us for a 30 minute no cost consultation so that we can provide you with advice tailored to your individual circumstances.

Anne O’Loughlin.
Anne O’Loughlin Managing Principal Family & Relationship Law View profile
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