As a divorce mediator and family law lawyer, I know that there are questions people have when bringing an end to a marriage. Though divorce is never easy, it becomes particularly complex when children are involved, as the end of a relationship also means a huge change in family dynamics for all parties. Since the aim of any divorce and child custody agreements should be to come to terms on agreement that preserves the safety and comfort of the child in question, I offer my clients a range of alternative dispute resolution methods to choose from, alongside standard litigation.
I find that many of my clients prefer to use the less-combative strategy of mediation when it comes to making decisions for the benefit of their children. After all, not only does mediation allow both parties within a divorce to come to an agreement that suits either side, but it can also preserve some of the relationship that remains between divorcing couples, which can be key to joint custody and visitation agreements. One of the many important issues I address with my clients during the mediation process, is “child support”, and what that term should mean to both parties involved.
Addressing Child Support in Mediation
My job as a mediator isn’t to take sides, or tell the people working through the issues in my care what kind of child support agreement they should come to on he behalf of their children. However, my experience as a family lawyer and divorce attorney does mean that I can offer some helpful advice on which agreements the court are likely to accept, and which they might not see as being in the “best interests” of the child. As part of the child support mediation experience, I’ll often discuss on the numerous complicated aspects of child support with my clients in depth, addressing issues such as the current child support guidelines for the State of New York, and the factors that might cause the judge to consider a deviation from those guideline amounts.
While there are guidelines for the presumptive amount of child support, in mediation we do not need to be focused on what the guideline amount of child support would be. Rather, mediation operates in the shadow of the law and the parties are free to choose what they are willing to agree upon. I might begin the topic of child support by explaining that there are guidelines, based on income and the number of children of child support age. Prior to go into the guideline amounts, I might ask if the couple or either side has any ideas on what the child support arrangement will be for their case. At times we might look at the budgets of both the Husband and Wife to see what each needs, financially, in order to meet their monthly obligations. Some people might want to hear the guidelines prior to discuss their own ideas on child support. Others do not want to hear the guidelines right away. At some point, whether the couple wants to hear the guideline amount of child support, I will tell them what the guidelines say because any agreement on child support must spell out the guideline amount. Then the couple is free to apply the guidelines or deviate from the guidelines and state certain recognized reasons under the law to deviate from the guidelines.
Some of the other issues we might discuss could include things like health insurance for the children, payment of child care, unreimbursed medical expenses, life insurance and whether or not to included private education or higher education of their children. The more information I can provide my clients about the issues that could be included in child support orders or not during a mediation session, the more likely they are to think about how the child support aspect of their agreement will best suit their needs.
Of course, the outcome of any child support mediation session will depend on the unique circumstances of the family. While some couples will prefer to use the guidelines offered by the court to determine how much support should be paid to either party, others will need to consider unique situations and extra concerns that might cause them to deviate from the standard patterns. For instance, if the child has specific medical or educational needs, then extra support might be awarded to help them maintain the quality of life that they had while the marriage was intact.
Dealing with Child Support Through Mediation
During a mediation with divorcing, or even unmarried parents, my aim as a mediator is to assist both parties in coming to an agreement that can be seen as working for the couple and the children. The agreement being in the best interests of the children improves the chances that when the agreement is taken in front of a judge, it’s approved and turned into an order. However, it’s also crucial to ensure that both parties feel comfortable with the child support agreement that is made, as it can be difficult to change an order once it has been approved by the courts of New York. I will discuss the default reasons under the law that child support can be modified and whether or not the couple wants to stick with the default reasons under the law or opt out of them in their agreement.
One of the reasons that my clients often prefer using mediation as a way to discuss issues that arise during divorce, is that the process gives both sides an equal chance to share their opinions and voice their concerns. While my experience as a child support attorney and divorce lawyer allows me to share valuable information with my clients, my duty as a mediator is to ensure that both sides have the chance to discuss this information as fairly as possible. This may mean that if one party takes their turn to explain why he or she thinks a certain amount of child support is reasonable, the other party will have an equal opportunity of uninterrupted speaking time where they can make their case for an alternative solution.
Although mediation can be less aggressive in nature than litigation, disputes and arguments can still arise. That’s why I regularly take steps to minimize disruption wherever possible. In many of my mediating sessions, ground rules are set to keep the conversation flowing as calmly as possible. For instance, if the couple in question begins to argue, then I might request that they try speaking to me, rather than directing their focus across the table at the other party. On the other hand, in some circumstances, I may ask one party to explain their position in greater depth, so that it’s easier for both clients to compromise. In rare circumstances, I could even suggest mediation by caucusing, which means that I meet with both sides of the couple separately. However, I prefer to avoid this where possible as it can cause discomfort in the mediation session, and detract from the unity of the process.
I always recommend to my mediating couples that they seek the advice of a review attorney at some juncture. This is the person that will explain their legal rights and might offer guidance about tweaks in the language of the agreement or otherwise. While not everyone takes me up on the recommendation to use a review attorney because they want to save the money or otherwise, it is always recommended. There are no hard and fast rules on how a mediation session needs to be conducted. As a litigator and mediator, I can say that my preferred method for couples to resolve their issues is mediation. For the vast amount of people that are willing to mediate it works and the issues are resolved in an expeditious and financially prudent manner as compared to litigation.
To learn more about addressing child support matters through mediation, read through our other blogs, or reach out to me, Mr. Darren Shapiro, through our online form, or over the phone at 516-333-6555. I’ll be happy to help you schedule your initial, free half-hour consultation.