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How Child Support Is Negotiated After a Divorce

Updated on November 28, 2011

Know the System and Understand What's Right For Your Children

Divorce is a tough time for everyone, especially when there is a child, or possibly children, involved. It's hard to make the right choices and harder still to see how they will affect things in the future. It's important to know the facts, and understand them before going into a court mediation concerning child support.

Know Your State's Guidelines On Child Support

Each state has its own guidelines on what child support should be agreed upon depending upon its own formula. In many cases, it's cut-and-dry, and will easily be agreed upon. However, there are considerable modifications that can be negotiated.

First and foremost, always be prepared. If your financial records are incomplete, the formula may offer a higher sum than is accurate. Always bring any court orders, birth certificates, social security numbers, income or tax records, documents to establish ownership of property, payment records, and any documents that show the whereabouts or the assets of the obligor. Be sure to offer all of the following in writing: address, pay or income, where or how you get your money or income, custody arrangement, and any child support orders that may have been agreed upon. And as always, keep good records of any payments made to your spouse.

The formula for most states is based upon the net income of the non-custodial parent, and number of children involved. This value is typically considered the floor for the agreement, but there are several cases in which less should be agreed upon:

  1. Paying back child support is like paying back a loan. A parent will likely offer what he or she can afford to pay, and if that number is less than was tabulated by the formula, he or she might become overwhelmed by the payments and default. In this case, the back payments, called payment "in arrears" will still be owed, but in many cases it will continue to add up until the custodial parent is found in contempt and must serve jail time. All the while children are receiving zero dollars in child support. In a family law court, this payment "in arears" can be re-negotiated, and possibly reduced with a payment plan.
  2. Children need more than money. If a parent is willing to help out with after-school activities or college, accepting less in this case could be beneficial.
  3. If hardships exist, such as extraneous situations that may make paying the decided amount too difficult, the terms can be adjusted. This is similar to the first reason, but it can give a non-custodial parent the ability to inject his or her parameters into the agreement, as in if his or her salary decreases below a certain amount, the figure will drop, or any other parameters that may seem fair.

Deviating From State Guidelines By Itemizing

When coming up with a fair figure that deviates from the state's guidelines, it's best to organize around the monthly budget of the children. Include household expenses, including mortgage or rent, and food and utilities. Include clothing costs for a year divided by twelve, camp, extracurricular activities, gifts, and other items that are paid only once a year. Divide this figure in half, and that would make a good estimate as to what you should pay. Also, include a stipulation that over time, depending upon the economy, this figure will gradually increase. It's also recommended to add stipulations for pay decreases or loss of employment. Otherwise, payment will be expected regardless of financial situation.

Keep Your Child's Future In Mind When Negotiating

It may come up to negotiate other extraneous payments, such as birthday parties, a first car, college, or a wedding. These things can come back to haunt parents. Agreeing to pay a figure towards a wedding for a child that is currently two-years-old can either cause the custodial spouse to be left with a higher percentage due to increases in inflation, or the non-custodial parent could be left without a steady income, but still be required to pay a certain amount for a wedding. This can also be a problem in the case that a percentage is agreed upon, and one parent is making all of the decisions causing an increase in the standard price.

After a figure has been agreed upon, it does not go into affect until a court order has been decreed. Make sure the amount is fair before this occurs, and do not deviate from the current situation until this has happened. And as always, consider your child's well being first and foremost.


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