The attached paper Estimating the Costs of Contact for Non-resident Parents _ Henman, Mitchell: a budget
standards approach by Dr Paul Henman and Kyle Mitchell presents important new
Australian research into the costs for non-resident parents (formerly known as ‘non-custodial
parents’) of exercising contact (formerly known a ‘access’) with their children. The paper is
written for an international audience and much of the paper is technical in nature. However,
the Discussion section contains a broad discussion of the implications of the research for
social security and child support policy. One significant implication of the findings is that
there is a need for Governments and others with social policy responsibilities to take greater
account of the relatively high costs that are involved in caring for children during contact
The paper has been positively refereed by Australian and overseas academics and will be
published in the 2001 edition of the Journal of Social Policy. The Journal of Social Policy is
published by Cambridge University Press and has an international audience. The Journal is
among the most prestigious and respected forums for scholarly papers on social policy issues.
The paper has only recently been finalised. It is being released by its authors prior to its
publication in the Journal because of its relevance to the debate on the Child Support Formula
reforms that are currently being considered by the Australian parliament.
To establish the costs of contact, the authors used data from a recent Australian survey on
expenditures during contact to modify existing ‘budget standards’ research on the costs of
children in Australia. Whilst the budget standards research has been criticised by some for
possibly overestimating the costs of living, the validity or otherwise of this criticism has no
great significance for the findings on contact in the attached paper. This is because the
authors express their estimates of the cost of contact in relative terms, that is, as a proportion
of the costs of caring for children for 100% of the year in an intact household. This
presentation of the costs of contact in proportional terms makes the research particularly
useful for assessing the validity of the current divisions of family assistance and child support
liabilities that are applied to separated parents in Australia.
The research establishes that the costs of exercising contact will often be relatively high. For
example, where contact with one child is for 20% of the nights of the year, the cost of this
contact represents about 40% of the total yearly costs of raising that child in an intact couple
household with a medium income, and more than half the total yearly costs of that child in a
household with a low income.
27 October 2000