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Adult child maintenance

What happens when my child turns 18?

A child support assessment will usually end when a child turns 18. However, if the child is still attending secondary school when s/he turns 18, the payee can ask the Department of Human Services – Child Support to extend the child support assessment until the end of the school year. This application can be made by telephone and must be made before the child turns 18.

What happens after the child support assessment ends?

In Australia the Family Law Act 1975 (Cth) provides that a maintenance order can be made for children who are over 18 if financial support is necessary

1) to enable the child to complete his or her education; or

2) because of a mental or physical disability of the child.

Education can include school, TAFE and university courses, apprenticeships and vocational courses. The court can consider whether the course is an appropriate path to assist the child to become independent. Parents do not generally have a legal obligation to support children through post-graduate degrees.

To have a legally binding arrangement for a child who is over 18, there must be a court order which sets out the amount of adult child maintenance. Orders for periodic payments can be registered for collection by DHS–Child Support if the payer defaults on making payments directly to the carer or child.Either the adult child, or the person who is caring for them, can apply to the court for an adult child maintenance order. The first step in such an application is to try to reach agreement between the adult child and one or both parents. This can involve negotiation between the parties and their lawyers, or mediation can be arranged. If agreement can be reached the parties can file Consent Minutes of Order at the court.

If agreement is not reached the next step is to file a court application which is served on the respondent parent. The respondent is required to file responding documents and both parties are required to provide “disclosure”, that is, to provide copies of all relevant financial documents to the other party. This includes tax returns, pay slips, bank statements, superannuation statements, proof of expenses and any other relevant information.

If the matter still does not resolve, the application would be listed for trial. At the trial, a Judge usually hears evidence from both parents and from the child. They then make a decision as to the appropriate rate of maintenance. The Judge must consider the following matters:

  • necessary expenses of the child – this includes a contribution to their living expenses and items such as study books and equipment, but HELP-HECS payments are not considered a necessary expense. For children with special needs, expenses associated with their disabilities can also be considered;
  • the contribution the child is making to their own upkeep. There is an expectation that adult children will contribute to their own support by working part-time where this is possible. If the child has disabilities and is not able to work the applicant will need to provide medical evidence to establish this; and
  • the capacity of each parent to provide financial support. This includes a consideration of each parent’s income, expenses, financial resources and earning capacity.

If a maintenance application is decided by a Judge it may take 6 months or more for the matter to be finalised. If an order for maintenance is made, it may not be backdated. If the application is unsuccessful, a court can make a costs order. It is important to have legal advice before commencing a court application.

For more information, call the Child Support Help Line on 8111 5576 or 1300 366 424, or see our pamphlet Adult Child Maintenance.

Adult child maintenance  :  Last Revised: Mon Oct 27th 2014
The content of the Law Handbook is made available as a public service for information purposes only and should not be relied upon as a substitute for legal advice. See Disclaimer for details. For free and confidential legal advice in South Australia call 1300 366 424.