5.4.7 Payee's right to enforce debt via court proceedings
Once a registrable maintenance liability is registered for collection by the Registrar, the debts arising under the liability are debts due by the payer to the Commonwealth. A carer liability is a liability to pay a carer debt to the Commonwealth under CSRC Act section 69B.
Payment of these debts is generally only enforceable by the Registrar. However:
- from 1 January 2007, the payee of a registered maintenance liability can bring court proceedings to recover amounts owed by the payer to the Registrar, and
- from 1 July 2018, the payee of a carer liability can bring court proceedings to recover amounts owed by the payer of a carer liability to the Registrar.
CSRC Act section 30, section 69B, section 105, section 111E, section 111F, section 111G, section 113, section 113A, section 120
In most cases the Registrar is solely entitled to and responsible for collecting a registered maintenance liability or a carer liability. The payer may voluntarily make payments directly to the payee or a third party in the form of non-agency payments (5.3.1); however, the payee of a registered maintenance liability or a carer liability may not enforce payments under that liability except by instituting court proceedings under CSRC Act section 113A (CSRC Act section 30(3) and section 69B(4)).
Prior notice to the Registrar
A payee of a registered maintenance liability or a carer liability must give prior notice to the Registrar of his or her intention to institute court proceedings. The notice must be in writing (including by email or facsimile) and given to the Registrar at least 14 days before the payee files his or her application in the court, unless the court allows for a shorter period because of exceptional circumstances (CSRC Act section 113A(1)).
In which court may the payee institute proceedings?
The payee can choose to enforce a child support debt under the FL Act, or take civil action to recover the debt (CSRC Act section 113(1)). The payee of a carer debt can only use civil action to recover a carer debt.
Civil action involves obtaining judgment, and then enforcing the judgment through the court.
Proceedings under the FL Act may be brought in any court with family law jurisdiction including the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia and State, Local and Magistrates Courts. The Family Law Act, Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia (Family Law) Rules 2021 and the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia (Division 2) (Family Law) Rules 2021, which adopt the Family Law Rules, apply to child support enforcement proceedings under the CSRC Act as if the proceedings had been brought under the FL Act (CSRC Act section 105).
Parties to the proceedings
The payee and payer are the parties to proceedings brought by the payee of the registered maintenance liability or carer liability under CSRC Act section 113A. Services Australia will not normally be involved, however, the Registrar has a discretion to intervene in payee enforcement proceedings (CSRC Act section 111E).
The Commonwealth is not liable for costs in enforcement proceedings brought by the payee of a registered maintenance liability or a carer liability, unless the Registrar is involved as a party (CSRC Act section 111G). If the Registrar is involved, the court would decide, upon application from the parties, whether to order costs against the Registrar or any other party.
Payments pursuant to orders
Where the court orders the payer to make a payment, that payment must be made to the Registrar. The Registrar must pay the amount received from the payer in accordance with the order to the payee of the registered maintenance liability or carer liability as soon as practicable (CSRC Act section 111F).
Court's power to obtain information
In payee enforcement proceedings, the court may exercise the Registrar's powers to obtain information and evidence for the purposes of the CSRC Act (6.2.4) (CSRC Act sections 120(1) and 120(1A)).
Payee must notify the Registrar of any orders
The payee of a registered maintenance liability or a carer liability is obliged to provide the Registrar with notice within 14 days of the court making any order in relation to the payee and the debt (including orders about costs, which are not collectable by the Registrar) (CSRC Act section 113A(2)).
Notice may be provided to the Registrar in writing (including via email or facsimile), personally or via telephone.
It is an offence if the payee fails to notify the Registrar that a court order has been made in relation to the payee and the debt due in relation to the liability (CSRC Act section 113A(3)).