How Australia’s child support system facilitates economic abuse of women

A new Women’s Legal Services Australia report reveals how child-support is used by perpetrators of violence across the country to continue their abuse, often without penalty. 

The current system for child-support in Australia intends for one parent to pay money to another for the purpose of supporting their shared child/ren, following separation. In reality, women – who are often the primary caregivers of children in separation agreements – are regularly denied their child-support entitlements by paying fathers and face little to no course of redress under the current complex system.  

As well as detailing how the non-payment of child support is a deeply gendered issue, the report reveals how the issue remains an unrecognised form of economic abuse by many Australian Government agencies and financial institutions. 

Women’s Legal Services Australia Executive Officer, Lara Freidin says clients of women’s legal services from across Australia describe the child-support system as a ‘tool of violence’.    

“The research shows our current child support system requires urgent reform,” she said. 

“Our current system reinforces traditional power dynamics and facilitates economic abuse against women and children. 

“Non-payment, underpayment, and delayed payment of child support must be nationally recognised as a form of economic abuse that has long-lasting impacts on women and children, entrenching their ongoing financial disadvantage.

“We are seeing fathers take extraordinary measures to reduce their taxable incomes and underpay child support, from refusing to lodge tax returns to working cash in hand jobs. 

“The legal system is incredibly complex to navigate and ultimately takes a ‘hands off’ approach to non-payment issues. Inadequate steps have been taken to ensure women have appropriate financial supports in place once they leave violence and abusive relationships.

“Mothers who are victim-survivors of family violence can seek an exemption from applying for child support under the Maintenance Action Test for Family Tax Benefit Part A. However, this exemption means mothers are missing out on supplemental income to support their children, and fathers who have perpetrated family violence are able to avoid paying any child support. Victim-survivors are effectively left to manage the economic consequences of choosing to leave a violent relationship.

“Women, who are already facing significant economic disadvantage within their working and social lives, some of whom are living in poverty, are forced to bear the burden of pursing their ex-partners for non-payment under the current system.”


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