When spouses decide to get divorced, there are four primary issues that will need to be worked out; alimony/spousal support, child custody/visitation/parenting plans, division of the marital estate, and child support. All of these issues are resolved either by the courts or through negotiation between the spouses.
It is always better for the spouses to work these things out between themselves, rather than leaving it in the hands of the court, and this is what makes mediation one of the most effective ways to handle a divorce. There is a common misconception when it comes to child support and mediation, however.
Each state has formulas and guidelines that are used to determine support. For example, New Jersey uses the “income shares” model, which is a complicated formula that takes into account the combined incomes of both spouses, the number of children, the ages of the children, and other factors. For this reason, many couples believe that they will simply plug a bunch of numbers into a formula, calculate the results, and be done with it.
But there is a lot more to it than that. First of all, these state formulas generally only approximate the minimum level of support that will be needed. There are a lot of important things that may not be factored in, and of course, the state has no idea what your specific circumstances look like.
The goal of child support is to provide the children with a standard of living that is comparable to what they enjoyed when the couple was together. This support is a continuous obligation for both parents until the child reaches adulthood (and in some cases, longer), and the children should never become economic victims of their parents’ divorce.
All of that said, only you and the other parent know the real cost of raising your child(ren). And this may not be the same as the neighbor kids across the street or even your sister’s children. Your income might be lower than that of your neighbor or sister, and you might have a more modest lifestyle, or vice versa. And this is where divorce mediation can be very helpful.
The Benefits of Mediation for Child Support Determinations
While the courts have some discretion with regard to child support, they do not have the time to delve too deeply into any specific case, so they need to stick pretty closely to preset formulas. With mediation, it is just the opposite. Mediation allows families to get creative, think outside of the box, and develop the child support arrangement that works best for them.
Now, the arrangement has to be fair and the court has to sign off on it. And this provides assurance to some who may be hesitant to go to mediation because feel like they are not good negotiators and they think their spouse is going to walk all over them.
It is important to understand that mediation is a cooperative rather than combative process. It is a negotiation, but the discussion is facilitated by a neutral third-party mediator who is experienced with these matters and whose goal is to guide the parties toward a win-win resolution that both spouses will be happy with.
Although the mediator facilitates the discussion, they have no power to impose anything upon anyone unless all participants agree to it. This means that you and your spouse will both have to approve whatever child support arrangement is worked out during mediation even before it gets reviewed by the courts, so there are plenty of checks and balances during the process.
At the end of the day, child support is about making sure your children are well taken care of during one of the most difficult seasons of their lives. And there is more at stake here than just money, you also want your children to know that they are loved by both parents, and that all of their needs are provided for. Mediation allows critical decisions around support to be made by those who know your children best (you and your spouse), rather than leaving this important matter in the hands of a largely impersonal judicial system.