Disputed care and interim periods

Disputed care is when parents stop following a written care arrangement without both parents agreeing to do so. An interim period may apply when this happens.

What disputed care is

Your percentage of care affects how much child support you pay or receive. It can also affect how much Family Tax Benefit (FTB) you get. In most cases, we use the actual amount of care each parent provides to work out your percentage of care.

Either parent can dispute their care percentage. If this happens, we may not use the amount of care each parent is providing. Instead, we may use the amount of care set by a written care arrangement for an interim period.

There is a dispute in care if:

  • there’s a written care arrangement that states how much care each parent should provide
  • care isn’t in line with the written care arrangement
  • the parent with reduced care is taking reasonable action to have the written care arrangement complied with.

A person has reduced care if they're providing less care than the written care arrangement states.

What written care arrangements are

A written care arrangement can be any of the following:

  • court order that states how much care each parent or carer will provide
  • parenting plan
  • written care agreement made by the parents.

How we calculate interim periods

Before 15 May 2019, interim periods were different where a child lived in Western Australia and their parents never married. For these parents, the information below applies to care changes you tell us about from 15 May 2019. This is the case even if the care changed before 15 May 2019.

An interim period can be between 4 and 52 weeks long. We use the amount of care in the written care arrangement during the interim period. We use the actual amount of care each parent provides when the interim care period ends.

The type of written care arrangement helps us work out the length of the interim period. We consider how long the arrangement was in place when the disputed care change occurred. Sometimes, we also consider if the person with increased care is participating in family dispute resolution (FDR). Increased care means more care than the written care arrangement states.

Read more about Family mediation and dispute resolution on the Families relationships online website.

What reasonable action is

An interim period may apply when the parent with reduced care takes reasonable action to have the care arrangement followed.

For the parent with reduced care, reasonable action can include:

  • genuine negotiations with the other parent to comply with the care arrangement
  • making or attending an appointment at a Family Relationships centre
  • seeking or obtaining legal advice regarding enforcement of the care arrangement

  • filing an application in a court to have an order enforced.

Sometimes, the interim period may be shorter if the parent with increased care takes reasonable action to participate in FDR.

Read more about FDR on the Attorney-General’s Department website.

Stopping reasonable action

If the parent with reduced care stops taking reasonable action, the interim period will end.

If the parent with increased care stops taking reasonable action, we may extend the interim period. The interim period can also restart in some circumstances if it has already ended.

How court orders affect interim periods

The interim period will start on the day the care changed. The interim period will end on the later of these dates:

  • at the end of the 52 week period starting on the day the court order commenced
  • 26 weeks after the day the care changed if the person with increased care doesn’t take reasonable action
  • 14 weeks after the care changed if the person with increased care is taking reasonable action within a reasonable period.

The interim period may be longer than 14 weeks. This is if the person with increased care takes reasonable action but not within a reasonable period. A reasonable period is usually within 14 days of the care changing, but can be longer.

An example of how court orders affect interim periods

Rachel and James have a son, Ethan. They have a court order setting out the amount of care each of them provides. The court order began on 1 September 2018. It states that Ethan lives with Rachel 50% of the time, and with James 50% of the time.

On 15 December 2018, Ethan doesn’t return to Rachel’s care.

Rachel takes reasonable action in order to get James to comply with the court order. James doesn’t take reasonable action to participate in FDR.

The interim period starts on 15 December 2018.

The interim period will end on the later of:

  • 52 weeks after the court order started - 30 August 2019
  • 26 weeks after the day the care changed - 14 June 2019.

The interim period ends on 30 August 2019, which is 52 weeks after the court order started.

The length of the interim period won’t change if James takes reasonable action to participate in FDR.

How parenting plans and written care agreements affect interim periods

The interim period will start on the day the care changed.

The day the interim period ends depends on when:

  • the disputed care change occurs
  • the parenting plan or written agreement started.

If care changes within 48 weeks of a parenting plan or written care agreement starting

The interim period will end at the earlier of the following:

  • 14 weeks after the day the care changed
  • 52 weeks from the start of the care arrangement if the person with increased care takes reasonable action within a reasonable period.

If care changes after 48 weeks of the parenting plan or written care agreement starting

In this case, the interim period will end either:

  • 14 weeks after the day the care changed
  • 4 weeks after the day the care changed if the person with increased care takes reasonable action within a reasonable period.

The interim period may be longer than 4 weeks. This is if the person with increased care takes reasonable action but not within a reasonable period. A reasonable period is usually within 14 days of the care changing, but can be longer.

Example where care changes after 48 weeks of a parenting plan or written care agreement starting

Robert and Jenny have a parenting plan for their daughter Ella. The parenting plan was in place 2 years ago. Under the plan, Ella lives with Robert 70% of the time, and with Jenny 30% of the time.

On 3 October 2018, Ella doesn’t return to Robert’s care.

Robert takes reasonable action to have the parenting plan complied with.

Jenny arranges FDR meetings for her and Robert at a Family Relationship Centre.

The interim period begins on 3 October 2018. Their parenting plan is more than 48 weeks old and Jenny’s taking reasonable action to participate in FDR. This means the interim period will end on 30 October 2018.

If Jenny stops taking reasonable action within 14 weeks of the care change, we’ll extend the interim period. We will restart if from the day Jenny stopped taking reasonable action if it has ended. The interim period would then end 14 weeks after the care changed. This means it would end on 8 January 2019.

When care arrangements change

Changes to your circumstances could affect your payments. We need to know about any changes that:

You can tell us about a change using your Child Support online account through myGov.

If a child’s care arrangements change, you need to tell us as soon as possible. You can contact us or complete the details of your child’s care arrangements form.

Read more about how your percentage of care affects your payments.

If you pay or get child support and also get FTB, you only have to tell us once. You don’t have to tell both Child Support and Centrelink.

Read more about child support and your FTB Part A.

When you don’t agree with a decision

You don’t have to agree with a decision we’ve made. If you don’t, you may be able to ask for a review of the decision.

Read more about reviews and appeals.

Page last updated: 6 November 2019