188.8.131.52 Verification of Shared Care Arrangements
Actual care arrangements must be verified with all carers, if possible. This applies to instalment claims for FTB (1.1.I.100) and past period claims for FTB lodged with Centrelink, where the care of an FTB child is shared, or where a change of care has occurred. This applies even when one of the carers is not an FTB individual, as the care determination may impact on their child support assessment.
Note: From 1 July 2010, determination of care percentage that is determined by either Centrelink for FA purposes or Child Support for child support purposes will be aligned to the other agency in relation to a relevant care period. This means where there has been a care determination made by Child Support, this determination will be used by Centrelink to assess eligibility for, and the rate of, FTB. Centrelink will only be able to make a new care determination if there has been a change in the care arrangements. Child Support use the same rules as Centrelink to verify care arrangements.
Verification of shared care
Verification of shared care involves establishing that all parties caring for the child agree on either their shared care percentages or the actual pattern of care. If agreement is reached, no further verification is necessary. If they do not agree, further verification is required - with all carers, if possible.
Formal arrangement exists
Where a formal care arrangement (1.1.C.05) exists and all parties agree to it there is no need to verify the arrangement. A care arrangement may be documented in the following:
- a written agreement,
- a family law order (1.1.F.10),
- parenting plan (1.1.P.20) or order (1.1.P.19), or
- custody order (1.1.C.70).
If the parties do not agree on what the care arrangements are, further verification is required in order to determine the actual care arrangements. Obtaining a copy of the document detailing a care arrangement is one means of verification that may be used, but verification of actual care is also required. Some specific examples of care arrangement may include a foster care placement, or a court order for graduated return to care where a child is being integrated back into the family.
Additional evidence when there is disagreement about care arrangements
If there is disagreement between carers as to what the care arrangements for a child are, it is important that all carers of a child have the opportunity to provide verification of care. Each person should be asked to provide additional evidence to support their declared arrangements.
Disagreements about care are also relevant even where a care arrangement exists, as the percentage of care is generally assessed on the basis of actual care. For example, this could be relevant where the terms of a parenting plan are not being complied with by one of the parties.
Example: Steve and Joan have a parenting plan for the care of their child Sandy. The plan provides that Steve has 35% care and Joan 65% care. Joan contacts Centrelink to advise that Steve has failed to provide any care for Sandy for the last 2 months and that he has no intention of exercising his rights under the plan. Centrelink contacts Steve, who agrees that he has had no contact with Sandy for the last 2 months, but intends to do so in the future. Upon investigation, Centrelink establishes that despite numerous requests from Joan for Steve to exercise his care of Sandy at the times specified in the plan, Steve has refused to do so and this has been verified from a number of sources. On this basis, Centrelink assesses that Joan has 100% care of Sandy and Steve 0%, with a date of effect for the care period (1.1.C.100) from when Steve stopped exercising his care of Sandy, which was 2 months ago.
When assessing actual care percentages, evidence may be obtained from a range of sources.
Example: Evidence provided by the individual may include:
- written agreement,
- family law order or parenting plan,
- confirmation of play group, kindergarten or school enrolment,
- proof of attendance or membership of local organisations or activities,
- receipts for expenses incurred while the child was in care,
- confirmation of the level of care from close family friends or relatives,
- confirmation from professional members of the community who have regular contact with the family, such as teachers, police, ministers of religion, accountants, lawyers or doctors,
- social worker reports, especially in cases where there may be a fear of violence if the other parent is contacted,
- proof of travel arrangements at contact times (e.g. rail or airline tickets), and
- records from Centrelink or other government agencies which may confirm present or previous patterns of care, such as information about past shared caring arrangements which may be relevant to the current situation, particularly where an existing care determination was made by Child Support and at least one of the parties is stating that the care arrangements have changed.
Centrelink must not attempt to obtain verification of care arrangements from the child.
If Centrelink makes a new care determination based on changed care arrangements, the individual can seek review of this decision by Centrelink (see 6.2).
Act reference: FAAct section 35T Percentages of care determined under the child support law that apply for FA purposes, section 35U Reviews of percentages of care under child support law apply for FA purposes
Verification of change of care arrangements required when a new carer claims FTB
When a claim for FTB is lodged by a person on the basis that they have gained the care of their FTB child from another person, Centrelink should confirm the situation with the previous carer if Centrelink has not already been notified of the change in circumstances by either the previous carer or Child Support. Documentation to prove care arrangements is to be sighted for instalment individuals and past period individuals who claim through Centrelink.
If the previous carer does not respond to a request for confirmation within 14 days, the new carer's claim can proceed based on the evidence provided by them. It should be explained to the individual that the other carer may claim FTB later. If there is a dispute about the care arrangements at that time, a review may be undertaken and Centrelink may have to recover any FTB that should not have been paid.