Child Support Mediation – Keeping Your Children Central

Will I Have to Pay Child Support?  How much will I get in Child Support?  How is Child Support Calculated?

Child Support Mediation - Alexander Mediation GroupThe laws concerning child support vary between New York and New Jersey, but there are similarities.  Both states use guidelines to determine the amount of child support deemed appropriate and to be paid by each party.

When the parties do not agree, the court may rely strictly on the guidelines, however, the judge also has discretion to determine the appropriate amount of child support to be paid and by whom.  When we work with our clients on calculating child support it is with the spirit that children have the right to be financially cared for by both of their parents.  

Mediation is based on the premise that the parties are in the best position to decide what is in the best interests of their children and what is both financially logical and feasible for their family.  Most people prefer to be in command of their decisions rather than relinquish this control to their counsel or a judge.  When parties mediate, they have the benefit of reviewing what the guidelines recommend, and treating the guideline calculations as just that – a guideline.  The couple, with the mediator’s assistance, can then look thoroughly at the budgets of each household, the actual costs and needs of their children, and then determine the amount of support that makes sense given the particulars of their family.

Child support mediation can address individual situations more effectively than the guidelines alone.

Child Support Mediation in New Jersey—Getting to A Good, Agreed Upon Amount

In New Jersey there are the New Jersey Child Support Guidelines. The New Jersey Guidelines take into account data, including the income of each parent, and the number of overnights the children spend with each parent.  Other information considered includes: which parent is paying health insurance for the children and the amount of that coverage, and which parent is claiming the children for tax deduction purposes.  Mandatory retirement payments and union dues are also considered.

Obviously, no child support calculation based upon a general equation can reflect the nuances of any specific situation.  Take for example, a situation where a child sleeps 5 nights a week at Mom’s house, but, because of the parents’ work schedules, the child, on each of those five weeknights, is with Dad for dinner, bathtime and preparation for bedtime, before being picked up by Mom around 8pm.  The calculation is not equipped to reflect this fact pattern as it relies only on where the child actually spends the night.  By measuring solely where the child sleeps, the calculation ignores and fails to “credit” a parent spending substantial time with the child and incurring considerable expenses in so doing.

Child Support Mediation - Alexander Mediation GroupChild support mediation helps us use the guidelines as they were intended. They give us a jumping off point rather than a fixed conclusion.  You can read all the guidelines used in child support mediation here.

In mediation, factors that aren’t accounted for in the guidelines, like non-overnight parenting time, can be granted the weight they deserve.  We look at where the child is spending time and how the parenting responsibilities are shared.  We use that information in child support mediation to determine what is the most equitable agreement possible in terms of child support.

Most importantly, child support mediation looks at the needs of the child.  We call this child-centered mediation.

Child Support Mediation — A Child Centered Approach

In child support mediation, our primary interest is the well being of the child. The goal of child support mediation is to make sure the needs of the child – physical, emotional, psychological, developmental, relational and educational –  are addressed.  Most parents, no matter how they might feel about their spouse, have their child’s best interests at heart.  Nonetheless, when parties feel attacked and threatened (as is often the case in divorce litigation) the child’s needs can be eclipsed by the parents own crises.  In mediation, parents are supported so they can turn their attention away from embattlement and towards problem solving.  Parents are helped to engage in calm, cooperative communications where they are empowered to consider their child’s needs thoughtfully.

In our process, we often begin by looking at all the needs of the child, including shelter, clothing, food, childcare, medical care, and transportation, which is mostly what the guidelines cover.  We also look at the children’s school and extracurricular activities, as they tend to be an integral part of most children’s weekly schedules and can account for substantial costs not covered by child support.

Of course, multiple children increase overall costs, but the calculation is more sophisticated than 3x the costs calculated for one child.  Certain expenses are shared across a family, so that, for example, one minivan usually suffices to transport all the children to their activities (albeit with more fuel and mileage).  More groceries are purchased for larger families, but feeding five people, as it turns out, isn’t 5 times the cost of feeding one person.  In other words, the cost increases are incremental for additional children – the biggest cost jump is with the first child, and child support calculations are cognizant of this financial reality.

Child Support Mediation - Keeping Your Children Central - Alexander Mediation GroupHowever, the guidelines do not cover more than these basics, which is where child support mediation comes into play.  As mentioned above, many children have expenses related to extracurricular activities, and payment for these activities generally needs to be negotiated.  For example, activities such as travel hockey or horseback riding may cost thousands of dollars annually, and parents need to determine how they will share these costs if they wish (and they often do) their children to continue in the given activity.  This often involves an honest exploration not only of the new financial reality of two households, but also of what the child most requires at this time.  Discussions ensue about weighing academic, extracurricular and social interests and which pursuits (in which ratio) most support the child’s development.  

In child support mediation, beyond discussing sports versus academic involvement,  parents have the opportunity to clarify their own values and the differences in their parenting styles.  The more parents are able to find a common ground, the less conflict will be experienced by the child.  Parents are helped to parent as a unit, and that may be the greatest gift to the child – the security of having two parents working together to help them grow.

We know you don’t want to take anything away from your children, and that’s exactly the goal of child support mediation—to make sure all needs are met for every child involved.

How Long Does Child Support Last?

Generally, child support is payable until the child is emancipated.  In New Jersey, there is an assumption that is child is not emancipated before age 18, barring special circumstances; however, this does not mean that the child is emancipated at age 18.  This is commonly misunderstood.  Emancipation events render the child legally independent.  Emancipation events include: entering the military, marrying – even if that marriage is found to be void or voidable, death (god forbid), commencing full-time employment (not a summer or part-time position), completion of a four year degree at an accredited institution (or the equivalent), and sometimes the completion of graduate school.

BotChild Support Mediation - Alexander Mediation Grouph New York and New Jersey consider college an expected necessity in the current marketplace and expect the parents to support the child’s endeavours to the extent the child has the requisite proclivity and desire and the parents are financially able to do so.  Therefore, because parents are generally considered to have an affirmative obligation to put children through college, child support continues through college.

Child Support Mediation and Medical Expenses

Often at least one of the parents has the ability to provide medical insurance coverage for the children through his or her employer.  When both parents have this option, they evaluate who has the more affordable and comprehensive plan and proceed accordingly.  The parent who covers the children gets a credit which is reflected in the child support calculation.

What about uncovered expenses and co-payments? Child support mediation also addresses other medical expenses.  In New Jersey, under the guidelines, the first $250 of out-of-pocket co-pays and related expenses for each child are covered by child support, but after that, the expenses have to be tracked and divided, usually on a pro rata basis.

In cases where parents deviate from the guidelines, it often makes sense to modify how the parents divide the out-of-pocket medical expenses as well in order to avoid an inequitable result.  

This is why mediation can be so valuable—it allows us to take individual circumstances into account and come up with a solution that fits the family it’s meant to serve.

Child Support Mediation In New York

New York has its own guidelines, and the calculations are quite a bit different.  In New York the calculation are not based on overnights as they are in New Jersey.  Like in New Jersey, in New York you can also veer from the guidelines, provided your Stipulation of Settlement agreement articulates the reasons for deviation.  

Child support in New York is based on the income of the parents, and the number of children.  The parent who has primary custody of the children receives support payments.

Child Support Mediation Can Be Beneficial No Matter What State You’re In

Child Support Mediation - Alexander Mediation GroupAll families, and all children, are unique.  In every family, including every divorcing family, some things are still working.  In mediation, we identify what’s working well and what requires modification, so the family can function best.

Mediation considers your individuality and the well-being of your family and helps you make informed, thoughtful decisions accordingly.

If you think that child support mediation might be right for you, or if you just need to find out your rights and responsibilities, click here to contact us today.  We offer a free phone consultation to discuss your situation and determine how to proceed.

You’re not in this alone.

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