Child Support Enforcement: Departure Prohibition Orders

Child support liabilities are considered to be debts owed to the Commonwealth and not to the relevant payee, so the Child Support Registrar has the power to prevent someone leaving Australia without the need to commence any court proceedings when a debt is owed.

Departure Prohibition Orders for child support are considered to be effective ways of recovering child support debts. As of June 2019, there were over 4,600 Departure Prohibition Orders in place to recover more than $172 million of child support debt.

What is a Departure Prohibition Order?

Under the Child Support (Registration and Collection) Act 1988, a Departure Prohibition Order can be used to secure the payment of a child support debt. It’s an administrative order that’s made by the Child Support Registrar and it’s used to prevent someone who has failed to meet their child support commitments from leaving Australia.

If a Departure Prohibition Order (or “DPO”)  is placed on you by the Child Support Registrar, you will be prohibited from leaving Australia.

When can the Registrar Make a Child Support DPO?

The Registrar has the discretion to issue a DPO in a case where all 3 conditions below are satisfied:

  • The individual in question has at least one outstanding child support debt
  • The individual has not made satisfactory arrangements to wholly discharge their debts
  • The Registrar believes it is desirable to make such an order to ensure that the debtor does not leave Australia without wholly repaying their debts or making satisfactory arrangements to do so.

In addition to this, the Registrar will consider a number of factors when deciding whether to grant a DPO. This includes:

  • Any action that has been taken to recover the debt already
  • Whether the individual has the capacity to pay the debts they owe
  • The length of time that the debts have been owed for
  • The number of occasions that a person has owed a child support debt

When considering whether to issue a DPO, the Registrar will also keep in mind that the order will place significant restrictions on the debtor’s freedom of movement. As a result, they will not make a DPO without considering all relevant circumstances carefully.

What Happens if a Child Support DPO is Made?

If a DPO is made, then the Registrar must notify:

  • The person the order applies to
  • The Australian Border Force
  • The Australian Federal Police
  • The Department of Immigration and Border Protection (if the person the order applies to is not an Australian citizen)

Once the DPO has been made, it will prevent the person from leaving Australia before they discharge their debts or make satisfactory arrangements to do so.

The Australian Border Force Officers and members of the Australian Federal Police are authorised to prevent the overseas departure of an individual subject to a DPO.

If any officer believes that an individual subject to a DPO is about to leave Australia, they can ask the individual to answer questions or produce documents. This person is then required by law to answer these questions, even if the answers may incriminate them or expose them to a penalty.

Can a DPO be Revoked or Amended?

The DPO will remain in force until it is revoked or set aside by a court. This is usually when the debt has been paid. However, the Registrar can also revoke or vary a DPO after becoming aware of new information or in response to representations made by the debtor.

If any of the following three circumstances occur, then the Registrar must revoke the DPO:

  1. The debts have been wholly discharged
  2. The Registrar is satisfied that there are satisfactory repayment arrangements in place that will wholly repay the debts
  3. The Registrar is satisfied that the debts will be completely irrecoverable 

However, the Registrar also has the discretion to revoke a DPO where they believe it is desirable to do so.

If there are errors on the face of the order, then the Registrar can also vary a DPO to rectify this. However, this will not allow a debtor to depart Australia. If the Registrar believes it is appropriate and necessary for a debtor to depart Australia for a defined period, the Registrar will either revoke the DPO or issue a Departure Authorisation Certificate.

Disputing a Departure Prohibition Order

If you’ve been served with a child support DPO, then you may still be able to apply for a Departure Authorisation Certificate that allows you to travel. This may be granted if there is sufficient evidence that you will return to Australia. Sometimes, this may require you to provide security for your return. This security will also need to be deemed acceptable by the Child Support Registrar.

If you’re unable to provide security, then a Departure Authorisation Certificate may also be issued on humanitarian grounds. However, you will need to supply sufficient evidence and your case must be compelling.

Learn More about Child Support DPOs

If you’d like to learn more about Departure Prohibition Orders for child support, please contact us. We have over three decades of family law experience and we can help advise you of all aspects that are relevant to your case. Please contact us today on (07) 3837 5500 or get started online.