A child support mediator can help parents agree on what is often one of the most highly contested issues in a divorce. Every party in a divorce will have an idea of who should be paying child support and how much they should be paying, so it can be difficult to find a common ground if the parties are only negotiating on their own. The addition of a mediator can help the parties see areas that they are missing and possibly find a way to compromise. It can also give the parties peace of mind in knowing that they have an agreement that avoids letting a judge set the standard instead of them. But parents will often wonder how a mediator will help them make decisions and just what kind of decisions that a mediator can help the parents make regarding child support. These questions are important given that these decisions will impact their relationship and their children’s livelihood moving forward.
This article will seek to answer these questions. First, it will define child support and explain how the process works without an agreement. Next, it will discuss the aspect of child support that mediation will be able to help the parties resolve and when the parties should consider using a mediator to help determine child support. After this, it will explain the role of the child support mediator before walking through the mediation process and explain how the parties will participate. Finally, it will end with a discussion
Defining Child Support:
Child support is a sum of money that one parent pays to the other parent at a set interval that is set to help provide for the children’s needs. It is typically paid from the parent with less custody than the other, but it can also be paid in situations where one parent earns drastically more than the other parent to help keep the kids in similar situations in each house. While it seems like a simple concept, there are often many disagreements and arguments about who should be paying and how much they should be paying. Child support can often change a cordial divorce and co-parenting situation into a divisive and ugly situation.
Usually, child support amounts and payments are decided by a formula based on the income of the parents and the time that the children will spend in each house. A judge or magistrate will put the information into the formula and issue an order that includes the child support payment. However, this will not happen until the divorce is in litigation and in front of the judge, meaning that there will often be a long period where the parents are living apart and not receiving or paying child support. Additionally, other expenses may not be factored into the formula above, such as extracurricular activities and medical expenses that may be necessary for the children. These issues are at the heart of child support mediation.
Aspects to Bring to Mediation:
As noted above, most states will use the formula to determine the base child support payment, but it leaves some important gaps. Several issues will be important to determine with mediation. These include:
- Gap: There is often a gap between when parents separate and when a judge would issue a child support order. This can leave months or even years before there is an order with child support included. An agreement for child support to be provided in this gap can be helpful, especially in situations where the parent with more custody has a much lower income than the other parent. This can happen when the parents are deciding parenting time and can help provide the custodial parent with the funds to provide their children with a comparable situation to their home before the parents separated.
- Extracurriculars: Children often participate in a variety of extracurricular activities from sports to art to scout programs, most of which cost money to participate in fully. These costs will not be determined by the formula, but they may cause a significant expense to the parents. This is an area that the parties can discuss in mediation, even if they elect to have the lump sum child support payment covered in court.
- Medical Expenses: Most states require that one of the parents keep the children on their medical insurance and covers issues when one or more of the children has a disability or illness that may result in extra medical bills. However, settling how random medical bills may be addressed when they arise can help ensure that the co-parenting relationship stays intact.
- College: This may seem like it is far away for some parents, but it is important to determine who educational expenses will be covered by parents. A mediator can help the parties account for where they may be in their careers and how the parents save for college for their children.
- No Support: Occasionally, parents will have similar incomes and parenting time, so it may be that no child support payment would be the best thing for the children and their parents. A court will have to order some child support, so in cases where the parties would like to agree to no child support, mediation may be an option to reach a fair agreement.
There are other instances where a mediator may help determine how to divide the payments and help the noncustodial parent understand why these payments are necessary.
The Role of a Child Support Mediator:
A child support mediator will help the parties see the expenses that will need to be divided and why these payments are necessary to consider. The mediator will also have several roles in controlling the discussion and helping the parties communicate effectively, especially in situations where the parties are in heavy disagreement. The role includes:
- Neutrality: The biggest aspect of a mediator’s role is neutrality. This means that a mediator must help the parties consider both sides of the argument and stop the mediator from pushing one view over the other, no matter what they believe is correct. Mediators must be separate from the dispute and not stand to gain from one of the options.
- Guide: While the eventual result of the mediation is up to the parties, a mediator will help guide the parties toward solutions that address both parties’ concerns and still accomplish a resolution. This may mean helping one of the parties see the other side’s point of view to help bring the parties closer together and encourage the resolution.
- Enforce: The mediator will also be charged with enforcing the guidelines and rules that govern the mediation. This means that the mediator will stop parties if they become aggressive toward each other or choose not to work in a conciliatory manner.
- Reframing: The mediator will often help the parties reframe or restate their concerns and why they are asking for certain portions of payment. This helps keep the conversation focused without involving a lot of big emotion.
The mediation will have many other tasks and responsibilities throughout the process, but these are important in particular for child support mediation because the parties are often already involved in a high-emotion dispute.
The mediation process for a child support dispute will follow the same process as other mediators, but pay special attention to the process and the way that the parties speak with each other. This process includes the following steps:
- Introductions: At the beginning of the mediation, the mediator and the parties will introduce themselves and the mediator will lay out the ground rules for mediation. This usually means that the parties will sign a confidentiality agreement and the mediator will remind the parties about all that this entails. They will also explain their role and confirm that there is nothing that will impede their ability to mediate the case neutrally. The mediator may also explain how the process will go so that the parties can know when things will be happening as they move forward.
- Opening Statements: The first thing that will happen after the mediator finishes opening the mediation is the opening statements by the parties. This is where each side has a chance to present their case and outline why they believe the case showed be settled. Both parties will share why they think the child support agreement should be the way they are arguing for and present their evidence for this side. This helps the mediator and the other party see the strengths and weaknesses of the case and a fuller picture of what could happen at trial if the case does not settle. The goal of these statements is to define the conflict and how far apart the parties are.
- Caucuses: After opening statements, the bargaining process begins. The mediator will usually separate the parties and ask them about the case. This allows the parties to speak more freely with the mediator, who cannot tell the other party what was said unless given permission. The mediator will also usually have a discussion with each party about the strengths and weaknesses of their case. During this time, parties may suggest offers and have the mediator relay these to the other party.
- Bargaining: As the parties continue in mediation, they will move away from the facts of the case and begin focusing on the offers and counteroffers that are moving between the parties. This is where they will attempt to hammer out an agreement and come up with a solution to the case.
- Ending: The ending of the mediation will either be an agreement signed by the parties or an agreement that the case will not be settled in this mediation and the parties need to move forward with the trial. It may also include a partial agreement, such as an agreement concerning how the medical expenses and extracurricular expenses will be divided but still need the court to determine the base amount.
This process allows the parties to come together and find a solution that works for both parties and is in the best interests of the children.
How to Prepare for Child Support Mediation:
If you are participating in a child support mediation, there are some steps you can take to adequately prepare for the discussion. Preparation is key when it comes to mediation because it allows the parties to set their terms and understand clearly how the parties will be affected by different options. These ideas for preparation and some questions to ask yourself include:
- Goals: The first thing a party should do is set a clear goal for the mediation. If you are fighting to receive child support, how much do you need and why do you need this? If you are hoping to lessen the child support you are paying, why is the current amount inadequate and how should it change? Identifying the goal will help a party determine what they need to settle.
- Proof: Once they’ve set a goal, a party will need to determine what they have to support or prove why they need the result. What helps prove your reasons? How do you support the idea that you need more money to support the children? What is your income entitles you to your proposed idea?
- Opponent: Another important aspect of preparing for mediation is studying and understanding your opponent’s point of view. What about their position makes sense? What do you believe is the highest or lowest they will go? Is there a place between that could make both of you happy? Understanding their position will inform how far you can work within your range.
Moving through these questions will help you identify what you need from the mediation and help prepare you to achieve a workable solution. Mediation can be incredibly helpful in determining child support and help you and you