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Communtity Law Manual | Parents, guardians & caregivers | Departures from the formula assessment

Child support

Departures from the formula assessment

Child Support Act 1991, ss 96A, 96B, 104

Either parent, whether the liable parent or the receiving carer, can apply for child support to be worked out on a different basis from the standard formula assessment. This is called applying for a “departure” from the formula assessment; when the decision is made by the Family Court it’s called a “departure order”.

Who do I apply to if I want a departure decision?

Child Support Act 1991, ss 96B, 96F, 104

In general, you must apply first to Inland Revenue. You can apply to the Family Court for a departure order only if:

  • Inland Revenue has already made a decision on your application for a departure from the formula assessment, or has refused to make a decision because it thinks the issues are too complex and should be left to the Family Court, or
  • either or both parents are already involved in another case that’s going to be heard by the Family Court, and it’s appropriate for the departure application to be heard along with that other case.

What are the grounds for departing from the formula assessment?

Child Support Act 1991, ss 96C, 105

Inland Revenue or the Family Court, depending on who you’ve applied to, can approve your application for a departure decision if it’s satisfied:

  • that one or more of the grounds for a departure have been made out (see below), and
  • that departing from the formula assessment would be “just and equitable” for the children and both parents, and would be “otherwise proper”.

These are the specific grounds for departing from a formula assessment:

  • Reduced financial capacity – Your ability to financially support the child is significantly reduced because of any of the following special circumstances:
    • because you’re responsible for supporting another child or person, or
    • because you’re responsible for supporting another child or person who has special needs, or
    • because of commitments that are necessary for you to support yourself or to support any other child or person you’re responsible for.
  • Higher costs of care – The costs of raising the child are significantly affected by any of the following special circumstances:
    • you’re having to pay particularly high costs in order to have contact with the child, or to enable the other parent to have contact with them, or
    • the child has special needs, or
    • the child is being cared for, educated or trained in a particular way that’s expected by either you or the other parent.
  • Special cases involving money or property – The formula assessment would mean that you have to pay an “unjust and inequitable” amount of child support because of special circumstances involving:
    • the income, earning capacity, property or financial resources of either you, the other parent or the child, or
    • any money or property that you’ve previously made or transferred to the child, or to the other parent or another person for the child’s benefit, or
    • the other parent continuing to live in the family home after the two of you separated, if you own or co-own the home.
  • Re-establishment costs – The formula assessment should be departed from to recognise that, at some time within the three years after you separated from the other parent, you earned additional income to meet the costs of re-establishing yourself and any of your dependents after the separation. (This new ground was introduced on 1 April 2016.)
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