Anna left her ex with just her clothes. She’s now owed over $200K and lives in a tent.

Mum of five Anna* is owed more than $200,000 in unpaid child support. Yes, you read that right. More than $200,000 she could have used to raise her five children. Instead, the family is living week to week, in a small tent.

“We were paying off our first home. The relationship was fairly constantly toxic with his alcohol and his infidelity being the biggest problems. This led to domestic violence which got to a point where I was told to leave by authorities or they would intervene — I left with just our clothes and never looked back," she tells Mamamia.

Anna stayed in a woman’s refuge initially, and slowly created a home for her family using the money she received from the single parent pension.

“His rate of child support is calculated by his last tax return/earnings, which I think was 2001. He has never paid a cent, nor collected Centrelink or filled out a tax return in those past 20 years.

“My eldest two are 18 and 20. Nothing at all.”

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Services Australia has since deemed this debt as ‘non-pursuit’, meaning the agency will no longer actively pursue payment. According to the Services Australia website, a decision may be made to stop pursuing a debt if all reasonable action has been taken to recover that debt, or it would cost the Commonwealth more to recover the debt that the amount covered, or the whereabouts of the person owing the debt is unknown.

Anna eventually began another relationship, leading to the birth of her three sons. The boys’ father was emotionally abusive, ultimately leaving her once again broken and alone.

"I ended up with severe depression, always wishing he would come home and deep down knowing he never would as it just wasn’t fun enough with all these kids I had at home.

"We only heard from him once or twice a year. Over the years I have received a couple of payments when he started a new job. But no sooner had they found him and started to garnish his wages, he would of course quit his job."

The amount owed to Anna. Image: Supplied.


 Since the birth of her youngest son, Anna hasn’t pursued any other relationships, choosing to focus on her five children, and survival.

“I have no social life. I studied for a couple of years, got several certificates at TAFE, ran a small cleaning business, got work in kitchens or as a delivery driver when the kids were a bit older, but for 18 yrs I have been the sole provider, and although it’s been excruciatingly difficult and exhausting to be raising five children and working. I have done it.”

But when the rental crisis kicked in at the start of the year, Anna and her children were pushed out of the market, and have been forced to live in an old caravan, and now a tent.


"Just for power for our tent it’s $350 to $550 per week, and we can only ever stay a couple of weeks. It’s now two weeks before Christmas, we have nowhere booked. I’m 44 and have worked my whole damn life. No home, no super, no help raising or supporting my babies.

"I feel like I’m in a third world country and cannot actually believe how I’m being forced to live."

Robbed of their childhood.

At last check, Sarah* was owed $149,031.49 in child support by the father of her three children, now aged 14, 16 and 17.

"I was pregnant with my third son when we separated. It was a volatile breakup, as I had been suffering domestic violence pretty much the whole relationship. The other two boys were two years and six months old," she tells Mamamia.

At the time, they had a house together. He owned his own large-scale earthworks business, while Sarah owned a hairdressing salon. But when the relationship broke down, he refused to help with the babies, forcing Sarah to sell her salon.

"We’ve been separated for nearly 15 years now. He’s had very little interaction with the boys in all these years."

From time to time, Sarah's ex would request an exchange of $150 for some time with the boys, but that was it.

"As he hadn’t done a tax return for at least six years before I left him until this year, I contacted the taxation department and gave them everything they needed to see if we could rectify this situation," Sarah says.


She called on many occasions over the years, but nothing ever came of it. She frequently called Services Australia too, to no avail. Eventually, Services Australia did find a bank account in her ex partner's name, subsequently discovering where his money came from, and just how much he’d been hiding.

"He was supposed to pay me $2048 per month, $942 per fortnight, $471 a week," Sarah says.

"He was hiding from his responsibilities by putting his business in family members’ names, but CSA (known as Services Australia) declared they were confident he was the mastermind behind the business and still running it."

Sarah's ex also had houses in the Philippines, his new wife's home country, prompting Services Australia to put a No Fly Order on him. But rather than pay up, he simply stopped travelling.

"In the 15 years of Child Support refusal, they managed to garnish about $1500 from him after finding another account in his name, but I suffered so much abuse over this when he found out that it was hardly worth it."

He now ensures he has nothing in his own name.

"Businesses, trucks, a boat, cars, houses in the Philippines, and no bank accounts in his name — to avoid paying a cent. This is how he gets away with it. Child support can’t take money from a joint account. His business is in his son’s name, or was last I heard. All other assets are in family members’ names.


"To date, I’m owed $149,031.49."

"He has lived a very luxurious life, while we have struggled all these years. The boys missed out on holidays, new clothes, outings with their mates. Our eldest son has Level 2 autism, he refused to help pay for any doctors or specialists or treatments. So I paid for what I could, but had to go through the public system which has taken many many years to diagnose and treat — we have only this year been awarded NDIS."

Being her son’s carer means Sarah can’t work any more than 25 hours per week in order to receive payments, which she desperately needs.

"We live in a home I can barely pay for, no aircon, so many things broken from my boys with autism and ADHD. We live from week to week and it’s been that way all these years.

"I feel he robbed them of their right to have a comfortable childhood and me of ever having any quality of life — it’s truly disgusting that he’s been able to get away with taking no responsibility for his boys financially or even emotionally for that matter."

Fraught with inefficiencies and failures.

According to Cudmore Legal Family Lawyer, Alina Rylko, the child support system is fraught with inefficiencies and failures.

"Some parents may manipulate reported income and caregiving days, or misrepresent significant changes in care arrangements," Ms Rylko tells Mamamia.


Concealing income is also a prevalent issue.

"Where parents might accept cash payments or obscure their financial situation using companies or other business transactions. These actions can lead to inaccurate income assessments and, consequently, incorrect child support calculations."

Some parents have financial means for experienced accountants to minimise their taxable income, affecting a child support assessment.

"Conversely, delaying tax return filing can preserve a favourable child support assessment based on outdated financial information. This can result in inaccuracies, creating potential debts and arrears for both parties, undermining the system's accuracy."

While effective measures exist for recovering owed child support, such as garnishing wages or intercepting tax returns, these avenues can be delayed or circumvented, especially by those receiving cash in hand payments for work.

"For cases involving self-employed individuals under-reporting income, seeking a special income assessment is an option, although the process can be complex.

Disagreements with decisions by Services Australia (Child Support) can be contested through written objections, with further appeals possible at the Administrative Appeals Tribunal and potentially the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia.

"You can get help from a lawyer to navigate the maze of child support however the reality is many parents are simply not in the position to lawyer up to fight their ex for child support."


Reporting tax evasion to the ATO is one possible recourse for those unfairly assessed as a result of one parent receiving cash payments, but this depends on the ATO's discretion to investigate.

According to Ms Rylko, recent reports highlight significant errors in assessments due to IT system failures.

"In August of this year, it was reported that IT systems within child support resulted in errors in up to 47,488 assessments, underlining the urgent need for a comprehensive overhaul of child support.

"The current structure of the child support system may unintentionally incentivise some parents to limit the other parent's access to their children. This issue forms part of a broader problem within the Australian family law system that requires immediate attention.

"A good family lawyer will identify evidence for circumstances in which a parent is withholding a child for child support payments, or to inflict similar financial abuse."

* Names have been changed to maintain privacy.

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Featured Image: Supplied/Getty.