Most divorcing parents truly want to do their part to help support their children in the coming years. That being said, some still visibly resist the idea of being forced to pay child support. A common refrain I hear is, “Of course I want to help my kids; I just don’t want to give the money to him/her”, or “I want to help pay for my child’s college education, but I resent being told by a Court how much I will need to contribute, or what kind of an institution my child will attend.”
Such sentiments are understandable. It is easy to see how parents could be offended that a Judge who does not know them personally would impose a ruling regarding how they take care of their own children. However, it is the Court’s duty to objectively enforce rules and laws because sadly there are cases when parents do not have their children’s best interests at heart.
While there is little flexibility in child support options for couples who go the Court route, we are able to be much more creative with those who go through Mediation or Collaborative Practice (CP) – as long as the couple is able to communicate well and work things out civilly.
First Things First
When I am working with clients, I first make sure they understand what basic child support is intended to cover. This generally includes fundamental needs, such as a roof over the children’s heads, food on the table, reasonable transportation, and sufficient clothing.
Extracurricular activities, sports or activity-related clothing and gear, medical expenses, educational needs, college tuition, and insurance are usually calculated separately in addition to basic child support.
Compensating for Income Differentials
If both spouses are making close to same amount of money, there are certain presumptions of what each should cover for their children. If there is a big differential in their income amount, however, the one with the higher income is expected to cover a larger share of the expenses.
Working out the logistics of such an arrangement through Mediation requires a higher degree of cooperation between both parties. Otherwise, negotiations will just be a constant battle, which is not healthy or productive for anyone involved.
If there is a reasonable degree of cooperation, we can be creative. For example, we could set up a shared bank account where both parents deposit a certain amount of money every month. This does not necessarily have to be an equal amount, as long as it is determined in advance and reviewed on an annual basis to see if the arrangement still works.
The idea of this kind of set-up would be that a certain list of expenses would be paid out of this account. The ground rules would be set up in advance. For example, one party would be putting x in every month while the other party would be putting in x. We would determine the date by which the funds would be deposited each month, and decide which individual would be writing the checks and making payments. The parents would need to understand that there still could be unexpected expenses that arise; while most costs can be predicted, not all can. That being said, this option still works for a lot of people.
Another idea I often see implemented is that the parents agree to split certain expenses. For example, Dad will pay for soccer and dance lessons, while Mom will pay for school lunches. If there are an even number of children, Dad might agree to pay for two of the kids’ expenses while Mom pays for the other two kids’ expenses. If an extraordinary or unexpected expense over a certain amount arises, they can agree that they will split it.
Will These Creative Child Support Options Hold Up in Court?
As long as the Court is satisfied that the children or dependent(s) will be the recipient(s) of the amount of support that is appropriate, the creative options we come up with through Mediation or CP are acceptable before a Judge. My experience has been that working with my clients to come up with “out-of-the-box” thinking and unique approaches to meet support needs has been found to be favorable in the eyes of the Court.