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When there is a dispute about money, things often get heated. This is also the case with alimony. But who actually has to pay what in legal terms?

Alimony and child support – what does that mean legally?

Alimonies are payments made by a parent for children with whom he or she does not live in the same household. Child maintenance is a broader term and means the maintenance obligation of (both) parents towards their children. In principle, parents are obliged to support their children until the children are capable of supporting themselves. When children are capable of supporting themselves must be examined in each individual case. Contrary to popular opinion, children are not automatically capable of self-support at the age of 18. If it corresponds to the living conditions of the parents and the child is suitable, children must still be financially supported during their studies. In return, however, it is expected that the studies are pursued seriously and purposefully. Under certain circumstances, this may even include doctoral studies.

Who pays the child maintenance/alimony?

If parents live together with their children in the same household, the question of child maintenance often does not arise. In most cases, there are working agreements about who looks after the children when and who pays what. In such a setting, parents have to pay child maintenance on a pro-rata basis. This means that the care services and the provision for the children are shared. It only becomes more difficult when the parents separate (physically). Often, the question then arises as to who mainly looks after the children and how much child maintenance or alimony has to be paid by the other person.

The person who mainly cares for the children, i.e. who still lives with the children in the same household after the separation, makes his or her contribution through maintenance in kind. This means by actually providing for the children (food, care, living space, clothing). The other parent owes monetary maintenance. The parent liable to pay money maintenance has to transfer the child maintenance to the main caring parent. Often this is still the mother with whom the children live after a separation. Contrary to a widespread misunderstanding, the person paying alimony is not entitled to have the other parent prove what the child support is used for or even to have meticulous accounts kept.

How much child maintenance is owed?

The amount of child maintenance is influenced by several factors. To put it simply, the question of how much child maintenance is to be paid is on the one hand about how capable the debtor is and on the other hand about the actual needs of the child. However, in order to be able to assess the ability to pay at all, it is necessary to have access to corresponding evidence, such as pay slips, tax returns, tax assessment notices or similar. These income documents must also be made available by the person who owes monetary maintenance.

Basically, there are percentages that have been developed to determine the amount of maintenance. Depending on the age of the child, between 16-22 per cent of the monthly net income is owed. Other care obligations (other children or spouse) of the maintenance debtor are also taken into account in the assessment of maintenance. We do not have maintenance amounts like the ones you read about in magazines about, for example, American star children. In Austria there is a so-called “playboy limit” or luxury limit, which caps child maintenance above a certain income level. This is due to pedagogical considerations. It is possible that children of very rich parents do not receive as much child maintenance as they might think, especially when measured against the standard of living of the maintenance debtor.

What influence does (equal) care have on child maintenance?

Sometimes there are bitter disputes about child maintenance or the amount of child maintenance. As a basic rule, it can be said that a “normal” right of contact of the debtor to the children does not influence the amount of child maintenance. The person paying child support must also bear the costs of the contacts, such as zoo admissions, ski lift tickets or the hotel on holiday. These costs cannot be charged to the main caring parent. However, if the right of contact is above average and exceeds 80 days per year, the child support may be reduced. If both parents care for the children equally and there is no great difference in income, monetary maintenance may even be waived altogether. This regulation sometimes leads to arguments being put forward that one only wants more contact with the child in order to have to pay less maintenance or, conversely, that one only wants to allow less contact in order to be able to continue to earn maintenance.

How can you apply for alimony/child support and what do you do if there is simply nothing to be collected?

Parents can conclude an agreement on the amount of maintenance at court or at the child and youth welfare office, i.e. the youth welfare office. The Youth Welfare Office also assists in calculating the amount of maintenance. If no agreement on the amount of maintenance can be reached, it is possible to file an application for the determination of maintenance at the competent district court. It is also possible to have the amount of maintenance adjusted (retrospectively) in the event of a change in circumstances. In addition, child maintenance or higher child maintenance can also be claimed retroactively for the past.

If one parent does not meet his or her maintenance obligations, an advance on maintenance payments can also be requested from the state under certain circumstances. The application must be filed with the court on behalf of the child by the parent who is authorised to represent the child.

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