Child Support - how it works 


What is child support?

The Inland Revenue's child support system collects money from parents not living with their children fulltime, to help financially support those children. This usually happens when two people have children together but do not live together.

The money is paid to the ‘receiving carer’ (the parent whose share of the child’s day to day care is greater than their share of the parents’ combined income) of a child under 19 by the ‘liable parent’ (the parent whose share of the child’s day to day care is less than their share of the parents’ combined income).

A receiving carer can also be a grandparent or Child Youth and Family, for example, if they provide at least 35% of on-going daily care. 

The receiving carer applies to Inland Revenue (IRD) for child support. IRD determines how much the liable parent should pay, collects the money from the liable parent and passes it on to the receiving carer.

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How do I apply for child support?

You need to be caring for the child at least 35% of the time in order to receive child support.

If you need to apply for child support, you can fill in a Child Support formula assessment application (IR101) and send it to your local IRD Child Support office. More information about this is on the Child Support website. You can also call IRD on 0800 221 221 if you have questions.

Applying for child support is optional unless you are receiving a Work and Income benefit, in which case you have to apply or your benefit could be reduced.

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How are child support payments calculated?

Inland Revenue uses a standard child support formula to determine which parent pays child support (the liable parent) and which parent receives it (the receiving carer) and to calculate how much child support the liable parent must pay (also known as the 'formula assessment').

It takes into consideration: 

  • each parent’s annual income as a percentage of the parents’ combined income
  • the amount of care each parent provides if it is 28% or more of the time
  • whether the parent has other children of their own:
    • children they care for 
    • other children the parent receives or pays child support for
  • how much it costs to raise a child.

How the formula works in detail is on the Inland Revenue website
You can work through the child support formula for your own circumstances using the:

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If we share the care of our child, how does Inland Revenue work out who will pay child support?

If you care for your child at least 28% of the time (this is equivalent to 103 nights per year over the 12-month period 1 April to 31 March) you can apply to Inland Revenue to have this care recognised in the formula assessment calculation. This is known as 'recognised care'.

The amount of recognised care each parent provides will be included in the formula which works out who pays child support and how much (see the previous question).

Basically, the parent whose share of the cost of caring for the child (based on how much of the time that parent cares for the child) is less than their share of the combined income of both parents (minus their respective living allowances), is the liable parent (who has to pay child support). The other parent is the receiving carer (who will receive child support payments).

If you aren’t sure whether the child’s care arrangement meets the recognised care criteria, you can fill out a Recognised Care Questionnaire (IR120) form (choose the one for the appropriate child support year) and send it to Inland Revenue. They will use the information provided to work it out for you. 

More information about how recognised care affects child support is on the Child Support website or in the guide, Helping you to understand recognised care.

If you care for your child less than 28% of the time then this time will not be taken into account when the child support is calculated.

If the child is cared for by a non-parent carer (e.g. a grandparent) for at least 35% of the time, then both parents might have to pay child support to the carer.

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Can I apply for child support if I am here on a work visa? My children and my ex-husband have New Zealand passports.

As long as you and the children live in New Zealand, you are entitled to apply for child support payments from your ex-husband.

However, you probably won’t be eligible for assistance from Work and Income.

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My income changes a lot because I do seasonal work, how do I know how much I need to pay?

The IRD uses your taxable income, as well as that of the other parent, when calculating how much child support you should pay (see How are child support payments calculated?), and it is usually your income from either the previous year or two years.

If you are earning at least 15% less now than you were in previous years, you can choose to estimate your income (there are circumstances when you don’t have this choice). To do this, complete an IR104 Estimate of income for child support assessment form (for the appropriate year) and send it to Inland Revenue (you can also do it online but you will need to be registered for myIR).

Inland Revenue will then send you a notice of assessment advising you of what your payments will be according to your income assessment.

At the end of the child support year, Inland Revenue will work out from your tax return or personal tax summary, whether you have overpaid or underpaid child support. If you have overpaid, Inland Revenue will put the money toward your future child support liability. If you have underpaid, you’ll be notified and given 30 days to pay the difference. This process is called the end-of-year square-up.

More about how to estimate your income for child support purposes is on the Inland Revenue website.

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Do I still have to pay child support if I'm in prison?

If you are in prison for at least 13 consecutive weeks, you can apply to stop your child support payments if: 

  • you earn no income while in prison, or 
  • your only income is from investments and averages less than the minimum payable amount per week (as specified on the Prison inmates page of the Child Support website).

To do this, complete a IR105 Prisoner and hospital patient exemption application form and send it to Inland Revenue.

If you don’t meet the above criteria, and your income will be at least 15% less than the income which Inland Revenue used to work out your child support payments, you can apply to have the payments recalculated using an estimate of your current income. See the question My income changes a lot because I do seasonal work, how do I know how much I need to pay? for more about estimating your income.

Other exemptions from paying child support
If you are a liable parent you may be able to stop or reduce your payments if:

  • you are in a hospital or drug rehabilitation centre for at least 13 weeks and meet the low or no income criteria (see the Hospital patients page on the Child Support website for more details) or
  • you are aged under 16 years and you meet the low or no income criteria (more details are on the Under 16 page on the Child Support website or
  • you are a victim of a sexual offence, a result of which is the birth of the child (for more details see the Victims of sexual offences page on the Child Support website).

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When can I stop paying child support?

You generally pay child support for a child until they turn 19 years of age (from 1 April 2016 you can stop paying when they turn 18, unless they are 18 years old and still at school) or get married or enter a civil union.

There are times when you may become exempt from making child support payments.

Significant changes to your living situation or that of your child, to your income or the other parent’s income could potentially result in your not having to paying child support (for example, if the child starts to live with you full time) if you want to find out more about this contact Inland Revenue.

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We’ve got a private agreement about how much to pay. Do we have to tell the IRD?

A private child support agreement is an agreement which the parents come to about the payment of child support instead of using formula assessed child support.

Unless the parent who would be receiving the payments (the ‘receiving carer’) is receiving a benefit, you do not have to register a private child support agreement with Inland Revenue. If you do register the agreement with the Inland Revenue, they will administer the payments (and enforce them if necessary).

Registering a private agreement with Inland Revenue
The option of registering your private child support agreement is only available if both parents and their child/children are: 

  • New Zealand citizens or 
  • ordinarily live in New Zealand.

To register your private agreement with Inland Revenue you need to send it to them along with completed IR102 Registration of voluntary agreement or court order for child support, along with a copy of your written agreement. A private child support agreement will only be accepted if your agreement is: 

  • in writing, 
    • made between the parents
    • signed by both parents, 
  • for a 'qualifying child' - that is: 
    • aged under 19 years, 
    • not married or in a civil union or de facto relationship, 
    • a New Zealand citizen or ordinarily living in New Zealand
    • financially dependent – not working fulltime nor receiving a benefit or student allowance)
  • for regular payments of the equivalent of at least $10 per week (they can be weekly, fortnightly or monthly).

If the receiving carer is receiving Sole Parent Support or the Unsupported Child Benefit, the payments must be at least that amount which would be calculated using Inland Revenue's formula assessment, and the receiving parent would only receive the portion of child support money which is over the formula assessment amount (the benefit makes up the rest).

Once Inland Revenue has accepted your agreement, the agreement will replace the formula assessment and the liable parent will make payments to Inland Revenue. Inland Revenue will advise you of what the monthly payment amount will be, and when they will start.

You can call Inland Revenue on 0800 221 221, or read their information about private agreements for child support, if you need more information.