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Child Support through Mediation
The concept of divorce mediation involves the idea that, when provided with skilled guidance and professional support, individuals can successfully resolve disputes without the need for litigation. This concept can be applied to every aspect of a separation and divorce, including child support. Many people don’t realize that child support can be mutually agreed upon and settled without having to go to court. In fact, when handled through mediation, a settlement can be reached that both parties are comfortable with.
The Child Support Process
The first step in the child support process is actually developing a parenting plan. This will outline the amount of time each parent will spend with the children, where the children will reside and what unique needs the family may have. This will determine who the custodial and non-custodial parent will be, which will factor into the amount of child support paid for by each party for the children. Once this is squared away, the next step is to calculate how much child support should be paid.
Calculating child support is generally a very straightforward process. Many times there is a formula used (like here in New Jersey where we use the “income shares” model of the New Jersey Child Support Guidelines) which may differ from state to state, that includes certain considerations such as the income of both parents and the cost of things like childcare and health insurance. There are certain circumstances, however, such as schooling or when a child has special needs, when the regular formula may not necessarily apply and both parents may be required to pay a higher amount. In these cases, mediation can help both parents reach an agreement on a child support settlement that is customized to their child’s particular needs.
How Can Mediation Help?
When it comes to getting couples to reach an agreement, it should be pointed out that child support isn’t simply a stipend given to the custodial parent. Rather, the purpose of these payments is so that the child or children can continue to be raised in the standard to which they’ve become accustomed. When a two-parent home suddenly transitions to a one-parent home, the financial impact can be significant. Child support is meant to make this transition smoother, at least in terms of the financial needs of the children.
Mediation can assist both parents in discussing the unique needs of their children that may require deviation from the state child support guidelines. For instance, the cost of private schooling or medical care for a special needs child can play a significant role in the financial decisions of both parents. The custodial parent may not be able to absorb that cost alone. However, rather than pulling the child out of a school they’re familiar with, or disrupting important medical care for a disabled child, the mediator can work with both parents to come up with an adjusted child support amount that accounts for these added expenses and is agreeable to both parties.
But Does Mediation Really Work?
Statistics show that mediation can also lower the risk of non-payment of child support because the reasons behind the child support payments are much more clear and better understood than in litigated divorces. In New Jersey, 85% of all mediated child support amounts are being adhered to one year later while only 50% of all court-ordered child support amounts are. In court, the non-custodial parent is often just given a monetary figure of what they’re required to pay, which can lead to feelings of bitterness and frustration. In mediation, the needs and expenses of the children are all discussed and clearly outlined. Therefore, when the non-custodial parent understands that the money he or she pays to their former spouse goes toward expenses that will truly benefit their child, paying it can be much less frustrating.
It’s important to keep in mind, however, that even after a settlement is reached, if the amount of child support agreed upon deviates from the state guidelines, either party may return to court at a later date and request an adjustment. This is why developing solid negotiation and co-parenting skills is so important, and why mediation can have such a positive impact on future disputes. The same communication skills you learned in mediation can be applied to openly discussing conflicts and disputes and reaching a compromise that leaves both parties feeling good about the outcome, without the need for costly and time consuming litigation. In the end it’s up to both of you as parents to put your children’s needs first to make sure your kids don’t become the economic victims of divorce and by calculating child support through mediation, you can ensure their needs will be met now and in the future.
In New Jersey, a separation agreement is any legal document signed by both spouses outlining the terms of the separation. Subjects resolved in a separation agreement can include child support, child custody, debt allocation and asset distribution. Notarizing the document ensures its validity, since there is no such case-type in New Jersey that provides for a "legal separation." Spouses wanting child support during the separation period, however, must file a claim with the New Jersey probation department.
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