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Feb 062014

child-support-agency-mistakes-to-avoid-themMistake #1 – You expect the CSA to be Fair and Unbiased (you’re joking right?)

Of the approximate 3600 staff at the Child Support Agency approximately three quarters are women. Of the number of parents paying child support nearly 90% are men. There is a perception of an endemic anti male culture in the Child Support Agency.

The following are extracts from the recent valedictory speech by retiring Federal Parliamentarian, Alby Schultz, on the rate of suicide amongst men as a result of the biased decisions of the Child Support Agency.

“Not surprisingly, that is the one constant I have been confronted with in many ways in this and another place in the past 25 years. Marginal seat politics, party-political point scoring, failure to act on serious social issues and irresponsible waste of taxpayers’ resources are both frustrating and morally wrong. As an example, in 2005 I produced a booklet based on three years of hard research about the Child Support Agency and its relentless, unjustifiable anti-male culture, which culminated in the suicide of a number of my young constituents. Confronting the very serious issue of male suicide caused by the gender biased CSA was treated as a politically sensitive no-go area by many politicians, which I embraced as a challenge on behalf of 4,000 families and individuals across the country.

That culture, despite some cosmetic changes, is still endemic in the CSA today. The increase in male suicides is due in no small part to the unrelenting anti-male culture of the CSA. The Lone Fathers Association, led by Barry Williams—the man is a saint—is taking 70,000 calls per annum from depressed males, many of whom are desperately trying to deal with CSA pressure. Were it not for him, the suicide rate would be even higher.

The incoming government would be doing a great service to oppressed payers facing criminal activity, such as entrapment and denial of natural justice—which is the modus operandi of the CSA today—and to the nation as a whole, if it introduced a parliamentary inquiry which would allow people to give evidence of the covering up of male suicides caused by the Child Support Agency. More importantly, it will give those living under threat of legal action by the CSA—if they release any part of taped conversations which prove intimidation, false information, abuse of civil rights and denial of natural justice—an opportunity to expose these issues under parliamentary protection.”

Be encouraged. You are not alone and no, you are not going crazy when you think you are being ‘hard done by’. Countless men’s groups, online forums and general discussions around the BBQ, along with damming statements like the above from Alby Schultz cannot be wrong.

CSA workers are not lawyers, they are trained under a system and backed by a litigation team. With the gender imbalance of the workforce, no matter how impartial a worker may be, they are human.
Let’s be fair and honest here, most workers have the best intentions to handle cases to the best of their ability, but keep in mind, with divorce rates soaring every worker has a friend, or a friend of a friend with a hard luck story that biases their decision.

One way to avoid this is to make sure you know all the rules, legalities and loop holes. In this busy world most people don’t, and let’s get real here.

Who has time for it, who understands it, and who wants the emotional turmoil of knowing you are in the right but having to justify your position, after explaining it for the tenth time!, to a faceless person on the end of the phone line who doesn’t even know it all themselves.

Make sure you do it though – educate yourself – or find someone that does know so you don’t have to and instead get on with living your life.

Mistake #2 – You Assume CSA will have your correct information from Centrelink and the Taxation Department in your child support assessment.

A couple of years ago there was a big Hoo Ha in the press about the sharing of records across all government departments – specifically, Centrelink, the Australian Taxation Office and the CSA.

While in ‘principle’ this is supposed to be the case forget it, and don’t assume that the CSA has any of your cross departmental records.

All too often the CSA records are NOT up to date. So if you are assuming, just because the other parent, or yourself, has completed the most recent tax return and lodged it with the ATO that this is reflected in your CSA file – think again.

Unfortunately it gets worse.

Centrelink records, and updated information on changes of levels of the care of your children, re-partnering or new births, or employment (you know, all the important stuff that changes your assessment) are also, more often than not, missing from the Child Support Agency records.

The bad news is, that if you are a paying parent it is likely that you are not only paying an incorrect rate, but will continue to do so while the slow bureaucratic wheels of the Child Support Agency continue to grind.

Meanwhile if you are a receiving parent waiting for funds or arrears, these will continue to accrue and stack up in the background while you continue to be left not only in the dark about what is happening to collect them, but also short on cash.

If you do know what information the CSA requires from you (and most parents unfortunately don’t) make sure you check each and every time you call that your records are up to date in regards to you or your ex-partners changes in circumstances.

Tedious we know – but if you don’t be warned it’s at your own peril – and don’t expect to be paying or receiving the correct amount.

Mistake #3 – You Expect To Be Given All Your Options.

Most parents when told they can apply for a change of assessment are informed of the obvious – That a change of income or earnings can change how much they have to pay. The rule is however, if your income has not reduced by 15% or more a request for re-assessment will be flatly refused.

What is often not said though is that, depending on your circumstances, there are often reasons that under the current legislation the Child Support Agency is obliged to consider a change to your assessment.

We have experienced countless stories of parents on many occasions paying child support at a higher level than is fair or necessary as they did not know of the many other options available to them that meant they were within their client rights to demand a change of assessment.

Do not expect the Child Support Agency staff to inform you of all the options available to you to apply for re-assessment – ask, drill down on them, and be sure to explore ALL your options.

Mistake #4– You Think When the CSA sends you a Penalty Bill for Arrears You HAVE to Pay – Wrong!

Finally some Good News!

You may already be aware (many parents are) that the Child Support Agency has the right to charge late payment penalties on arrears.

Over the years these penalties have been known to not only surprise paying parents, but increase the emotional and financial burden (let’s not even talk stress levels) and stack up to be as much as tens of thousands of dollars.

Not only do paying parents see their financial future slipping away before their very eyes, it also adds to the frustration and aggravation of dealing with the Child Support Agency on existing arrears.
What many child support staff will not tell you (there’s a lot the CSA is not telling you right?) is that there are certain circumstances when the penalties can be wiped from your file. In part or in FULL! Saving you thousands of dollars, your financial future, and countless nights’ sleep in the process.

Be aware though, you will need to present your arguments and grounds in a manner that gives them little room to move. Just recently we represented a parent who had arrears of more than $5,000 – we wiped it clean. So, yes! It’s possible. Be sure you find out exactly what your rights are when it comes to penalties, what deals can be made and how you can wipe this burden from your life.

Mistake #5 – You Expect to have a Case Officer – For Your Issue to Be Dealt With Promptly and for them to maintain accurate notes of your phone discussion.

Wouldn’t it be lovely to be able to call the CSA once, get through quickly, speak to the same person you spoke to earlier, explain your situation and reach a solution. Easy right? Wrong!

The reality is: the Child Support Agency has approximately 3600 staff of which about 2000 handle 1 million incoming calls a year. Simply put – It is not going to happen.

Don’t assume you have a Case Manager. Most customers we’ve spoken to don’t.

Because of this, you must expect the frustration of having to explain your circumstances or your problem over and over again, and having to wait on the line for hours each time.

If you are a paying parent you will inevitably be frustrated. If you are a parent who is supposed to be receiving Child Support you will inevitably be frustrated too. If you are lucky or smart, and have someone representing you, they get to punch #2 when going through the CSA automated telephone system. The waiting cue is not only much shorter, but they also know exactly what to say to make sure action is taken around your case. The CSA workers also know that when talking to representatives they have to be on the ball – accurate and ensure all their dealings are above board and straight down the line.

This leads to the next mistake parents make when dealing with the child support.

Mistake #6 – You Don’t Get a Receipt number for your Call.

If you take one thing away from this report – take this – Get a receipt number for ALL your calls to the CSA.

It’s impossible for all Child Support Agency staff to accurately record all the details of each and every telephone conversations and the advice given on any given day. With hundreds of calls a day CSA staff are pressured to selectively choose, what is important to record, what advice they gave and whether any action should or
shouldn’t be taken.

How many times have you had a conversation with CSA, figured no action was being taken, only to receive a ten page letter in the post a couple of days later. A letter you had no idea was coming and no clue or understanding what prompted it and you can’t work out what it is about anyway.

So being the good parent you are, you set aside a window of time to call the CSA – again!…Only to have the CSA representative you are now talking to give you different and conflicting information or advice from your previous call – Arrrgh!

When you contact the Child Support Agency it is highly likely that the details of your earlier contact will be not be in the records – wasting time and increasing your frustration levels. This is how a 10 min call turns into hours.

Our advice – Get a receipt, ask for discussion points to be added to your record and take serious notes on the things that matter.

Mistake #7 – You Think The Child Support Agency is Actively Chasing Arrears on Your Behalf.

It’s bad enough to be owed substantial amounts of money, especially if you are struggling to pay bills as it is, what’s worse (and we hate to be the bearer of bad news) is that despite having the power to wield, the CSA is an overloaded system and as a result is just unable to put in the effort to actively chase every single arrears case on its books.

Don’t assume if you have extenuating circumstances that 100% effort and expertise is being put towards exploring the numerous options available to them.

# BONUS MISTAKE – You Think You Are Capable, Know all the Ins and Outs of the CSA and Try to Go it Alone

Hopefully by now you would have realised some of your suspicions about the CSA have just been confirmed. If you think you are capable of dealing with this overloaded government system without some kind of help, advice or assistance from someone that knows all the ins and outs of it you are wrong.

Sorry – let me be clear – perhaps if you had a law degree, and 24 hours a day to devote to it you may be OK – but I’m guessing you don’t, right?

Mistake #1 alone, that you expect the CSA to be unbiased, demonstrates the need for someone to hold the CSA accountable to legislation, to be in your corner and stick up for you.

As a parent dealing with the CSA please make sure you protect yourself against the stress, frustration, depression and ultimately in the most tragic of cases suicide by seeking support.

Download the Report

Nov 222013

MensLine Australia is a professional telephone and online support, information and referral service, helping men to deal with relationship problems in a practical and effective way.

My wife has said she is going to leave me. What do I need to know?

There are three important practical areas you need to consider if you are facing divorce: division of property, maintenance payments and residency of/contact with children. Hopefully you will be able to settle some or all of these matters without recourse to lawyers. This is clearly the preferred option as court proceedings may be lengthy and very expensive. They are also extremely stressful and can involve considerable hostility, which can have a very damaging effect on children caught in the cross-fire. However, even though court should be avoided if at all possible, it is wise to seek legal advice in order to get a clear understanding of your legal rights and responsibilities in the event that matters do have to go to formal proceedings. Note that from July 1st, 2007 it will be a legal requirement for separating couples to go through a mediation process prior to taking their case to court.

After separation, you may be required to pay child maintenance to your ex-wife to contribute to the cost of raising your children. The amount you will need to pay will depend on a range of factors including how many children you have and how old they are, your income, your wife’s income, and the amount of time you spend looking after your children each week. The formula is set by legislation. The Child Support Agency (CSA) is the government body responsible for making assessments and helping separated parents manage their financial responsibilities towards their children. In the event of separation, you will need to make contact with CSA to arrange an assessment. Note that separated parents can also make a private maintenance arrangement without going through CSA, if both parties agree.

Residency and contact arrangements for children are often the area that is most difficult for separated parents. A good idea is to prepare a parenting plan, which is a written, signed and dated agreement outlining care arrangements for your children. The main purpose is to specify who cares for which children and when, but it may also cover such areas as who pays for what expenses, as well as other matters such as choice of school, house rules and so on. A parenting plan is not legally enforceable (unless made before 14th January, 2004), although it can be converted into an enforceable ‘consent order’ if both parties agree. Mediation can help this process if parents are having trouble agreeing or even discussing arrangements.   Contact the Family Relationships Advice Line (1800 050 321), the Family Court of Australia or your local Family Relationships Centre to find out more about how to formalise a parenting plan.

Where can I get legal advice?

Community Legal Centres and legal help-lines offer free legal advice. Legal Aid in your state may also be able to offer free advice. Law associations can usually refer you to a solicitor in your area. Search our services directory for legal services close to where you live. The Family Relationships Advice Line (1800 050 321) also provides legal referrals Australia-wide.