'Tool of violence': calls to reform child support

Child support payments are a "tool of violence" used against women escaping from domestic or family abuse, and legal advocates say the system needs to change.

In Australia, one parent has to pay the other to support their shared children after a separation.

But a report from Women's Legal Services Australia has found recipients  - nearly 85 per cent of whom are women - can be denied child support payments by their former partners.

This allows perpetrators of violence an avenue to continue their abuse, often without penalties.

"The non-payment or underpayment of child support is enabled by a system that tends to take a hands-off approach, giving fathers an undesirable amount of control," the report read.

Survivors of family violence can seek an exemption from child support but this means they miss out on supplemental income.

Women's Legal Services Australia executive Lara Freidin has called for non-payment, underpayment and delayed payment of child support to be recognised as a form of economic abuse, as her clients called it a "tool of violence".

"We are seeing fathers take extraordinary measures to reduce their taxable incomes and underpay child support, from refusing to lodge tax returns to working cash in hand jobs," she said.

"Women, who are already facing significant economic disadvantage within their working and social lives, some of whom are living in poverty, are forced to bear the burden of pursing their ex-partners for non-payment under the current system."

Jenny Macklin
Former MP Jenny Macklin is among 200 women calling for increased Jobseeker and Youth Allowance. (Lukas Coch/AAP PHOTOS)

Meanwhile almost 200 women, including former Labor MP Jenny Macklin, have written to Prime Minister Anthony Albanese demanding a boost in Jobseeker and Youth Allowance payments in this year's federal budget.

Ahead of the 2024/25 budget, to be handed down by Treasurer Jim Chalmers in mid May, the government announced women escaping violent partners will get up to $5000 in support payments.

But leaders in the business, social services and political sectors say women also need long-term economic security.

"For women from all backgrounds, the impacts of poverty on the ability to leave violence and live in safety is profound," they said in the letter released on Monday.

"Lifting social security payments will not negate the need to invest in frontline services and take the other critical steps to achieve women' safety.

"However, it is a core part of ensuring women can do what they need to do in order to be safe."

The government-appointed Economic Inclusion Advisory Committee recommended increasing JobSeeker and Youth Allowance payments in its 2024 report.

About 500,000 women receive the welfare payments, equating to $55 a day for JobSeeker and $45 a day for Youth Allowance.

Last year, the federal government changed the single parenting payment to benefit the youngest child up to 14 years of age.