In the recent decision of Child Support Registrar v Ahern and Anor  FamCAFC 105) the – Full Court of the Family Court of Australia made clear the range of powers available to the Social Security Appeals Tribunal (SSAT) when considering child support matters.
This is an important case for all people thinking about objecting to a child support assessment that may ultimately come before the SSAT in the form of an Application for Review. The background of the case is as follows:
- In 2010, Mr Ahern objected to a child support assessment for the period May 1st – July 29th and lodged a departure application with the Registrar;
- Mr Ahern was unhappy with the Registrar’s reconsideration of the matter, and appropriately lodged an Application for Review with the SSAT – this Application appropriately referred to the original decision relating to the period 1 May 2010 – 29 July 2010;
- The SSAT set aside the Registrar’s decision for the period related to 1 May – 29 July 2010, but also made a decision in relation to a much longer second period (being 1 July 2010 to 30 June 2013);
- This second period was not the subject of Mr Ahern’s application for review.
This decision is a salient reminder of the principles of administrative review of a decision on the merits by a Commonwealth Tribunal. It is important to remember that the SSAT is empowered to hold a new hearing (called a hearing de novo) and will make a decision on the merits of your case. In so doing, the Tribunal stands in the shoes of the original decision maker, and is empowered to make any decision that the original decision was empowered to make regardless of the ambit of your Application for Review.
While this decision should not discourage parents from lodging objections to a child support decision, they should remember that if matter ultimately becomes the subject of an Application for Review the SSAT can make any decision it wishes in relation to any period of child support. This may mean, as happened in this case, that your liability to pay child support for another period can be re-assessed on the basis of evidence put before the SSAT, regardless of the time period specified in your Application for Review. Before take your objections to a Child Support decision further and lodge and Application for Review with the SSAT, seek expert legal advice from a family law practitioner.
If you would like further information in relation to this matter or other legal matters please contact our office on Freecall 1800 609 945 or email us now.