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Does a child support debt impact my ability to travel?

Peta Krarup
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07 November 2023

I have a child support debt.  Does this impact my ability to travel overseas from Australia?

Services Australia are responsible for collecting child support payments throughout Australia (the exception being when there is a private collection arrangement between parents).

In some cases, a parent who is assessed to pay child support (the “liable parent”) can begin to accrue a child support debt (also called “arrears”) with Services Australia. Services Australia has several ways in which they can recover unpaid child support from a liable parent, for example:-

  1. obtaining a garnishee order which directs the paying (liable) parent’s employer to deduct a certain amount from the liable parent’s wages each pay period;
  2. garnishing the liable parent’s income tax refund; or
  3. obtaining an order to deduct unpaid child support from a liable parent’s bank account.
Departure Prohibition Order

Another option available to Services Australia to recover a child support debt from a liable parent is for the Child Support Registrar (“the Registrar") to make a Departure Prohibition Order (DPO). This is an order that prohibits the liable parent from being able to leave Australia until such time as the liable parent has paid their child support debt.

In order to make a DPO, the following conditions have to be met:-

  1. The liable parent has a child support debt;
  2. The liable parent has not made arrangements to pay their child support debt; and
  3. The Registrar believes that an order should be made to prevent a liable parent from leaving Australia without paying the debt, or making arrangements to repay the debt.

In addition to this, the Registrar will consider a number of factors when deciding whether to grant a DPO including any action taken already to recover the debt and the ability of the liable parent to pay the debt. 

Who is advised about the DPO

Once the Registrar makes a DPO, they must notify the liable parent, the Australian Federal Police, the Australian Border Force and the Department of Immigration and Border Protection (if the person the order applies to is not an Australian citizen). In practice, this means that the Australian Border Force and the Australian Federal Police are authorised to prevent the overseas departure of the liable parent. 

If a liable parent attempts to leave Australia and they are identified at their place of departure as a liable parent subject to a DPO, then they are prevented from departing Australia. A liable parent will only be able to leave if they can:-

  1. Arrange to pay the child support debt in full before they leave and provide Services Australia with evidence of the payment having been made; or
  2. In some cases, the liable parent can make an arrangement with Services Australia to make a lump sum payment towards their child support debt and ask that Services Australia issue them with a Departure Authorisation Certificate (DCA) allowing them to depart Australia. Services Australia can refuse to issue a DCA unless they make an assessment that the liable parent is likely to repay the balance of the child support debt upon their return to Australia.

It is important to understand that if you have a child support debt but your child or children are aged eighteen (18) or more, the Registrar can still make a DPO if the conditions set out above are met.

If you have a child support debt and you are concerned that Services Australia will stop you from being able to travel overseas, or you already have action being taken against you by Services Australia to recover the child support debt, then we strongly recommend that you obtain legal advice to discuss your options. Contact our office to make an appointment with one of our solicitors to discuss your circumstances and obtain advice on your situation on (07) 4963 2000 or through our online contact form below.