An experienced divorce mediator shares how to create an ideal situation where child support payments will be made regularly by the parent that owes them.
By Brian James, Mediator
One of the goals of a mediator is to help parents keep the children’s best interests in mind when making decisions. One of the biggest decisions that affect the children in a divorce is the amount of child support that must be paid. The laws in the state of Illinois, for instance, calculate child support according to a straight percentage of the spouse’s “true net” income. The percentage increases depending on the number of children that are involved. However, each state has its own methods for deciding how child support is calculated.
The major objective of the mediator is to ensure that the final child support number is an amount that both spouses agree to. The key to reaching this agreement is making sure the person paying the child support gets “buy-in” during the decision process.
The biggest reason why people don’t pay their child support is because they don’t see the direct value of how it helps support their children. Secondly, it’s very upsetting, as a hard working adult, to have a judge or attorney tell you what amount and when you will pay child support.
One would think that child support disputes would be limited to high conflict divorces. This is not the case. Even in a friendly divorce, child support can become a problem. It’s frustrating to hand over your money to an ex-spouse and not have authority over how exactly that money will be allocated. Without certainty about exactly how those funds will be spent, it’s hard to be motivated about paying that child support amount and paying it on time.
In my work as a divorce mediator, I see one common theme with many couples experiencing these child support issues. The main issue almost always originates with the spouse not having enough say about what the child support amount will be. When judges, lawyers, and other people make those decisions, it’s hard to get that “buy-in”. But when you give that person authority in helping to shape that decision, they are much more likely to want to follow through with the child support plan. When the payer has a say as to what amount will be paid and how the funds will be used, they feel much more motivated to pay the child support as agreed to.
Therefore, it’s important when setting up this initial agreement with the couple to ensure that it will work throughout the childhood years. And in the case that a life change occurs that does require a modification in child support, it will be much easier to reach a new agreement if the old agreement was paid as agreed to and on time.
In a situation where the payer was able to have a “say” in the child support agreement, they are much more willing to work with the ex-spouse on any new agreements, should the need arise.
On the contrary, if the payer was dictated the amount and way the child support would be paid, they will be more resistant to any modifications if needed down the road. In the end, this only hurts the children who may not get the care they need because of a shortage in funds.
When parents are fighting over money, it’s very difficult on the children. Not only do they feel the tension, but the parents may also use the children to “send messages” to the other spouse or use the children as “pawns.”
In summary, if you want to create a child support agreement that gets paid regularly, take every measure to give both parents “say” in what amount of child support will be paid and how the money will be used. In the end, both parents will be happier about the agreement. The payer is far more likely to stay current on child support payments. The children benefit by getting the support they need. Otherwise, the courts will decide. When spouses are told by the courts what to do, they are not very motivated or happy about it.
Brian James is an experienced divorce and family mediator with offices throughout Chicagoland and Southeastern Wisconsin. He runs a mediation practice, C.E.L. and Associates, and their website is www.celandassociates.com.