The following example demonstrates how divorce mediation can help couples to fashion workable child support agreements that meet their specific needs.
Michael and Karen (not their real names) came to me recently to help them get divorced. They had been married for more than ten years and had three children. To make ends meet, Michael worked three jobs: a full-time maintenance employee; a forty-hour per week machinist on the afternoon shift, and a part-time position farming. His annual gross income after deductions for FICA and Medicare was approximately $61,000. Karen provided day care from their home until it became evident that separation and divorce were inevitable. She had recently obtained full-time employment in healthcare working the midnight shift. Her gross income after deductions was about $17,500.
Using the New York State Child Support Standards Act (CSSA) formula (which sets a presumptively correct amount for support) for three children resulted in annual child support of approximately $22,760. The non-residential custodial parent’s (father) share was $17,750 per year or $1,500 per month. In addition, the temporary maintenance calculations resulted in the husband paying an additional $1,500 per month for spousal support.
If Michael and Karen had opted for the traditional path of attorney v. attorney and ended up litigating the child support issue, a judge would have been bound by statute to impose the $1,500 per month for child support as determined by the CSSA calculations. He may have also imposed some maintenance payments for a period of time. In addition, Michael and Karen would have been saddled with retainer fees and hourly payments to their respective lawyers.
However, the parties elected mediation rather than litigation, and common sense rather than confrontation. They were able to discuss and review their respective needs and the needs of their children. They both recognized that the $1,500 per month payment for child support would have forced the father to seek additional employment, and that would have reduced the amount of time he would have with his children.
As a result of conversations like this and evaluating what others in similar circumstances had done, they were able to create a child support contribution plan that was sustainable for the father and mother and also met the needs of the children. The CSSA permits couples to deviate from the statutory formula, which they did.
The mediation process empowered the couple to make their own agreement based on their particular needs and resources.