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Divorce Resources for Women

Negotiating Child Support

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As in all aspects of divorce, negotiating a settlement for child support is far preferable to having one imposed by the court. The unique aspects and desires of your family can be taken into account during negotiations. In court, long-lasting decisions are made quickly by someone who knows very little about your family. Issues such as college, medical expenses, and the way in which the child support will vary as your lives change can be carefully thought through and spelled out when negotiation succeeds.

There are a few pitfalls we want to help you avoid as you attempt to negotiate child support with your spouse, either directly or with the help of an intermediary. It is important that the custodial parent avoid becoming the sole advocate for the children in the negotiations. This arrangement creates short and long-term problems. A custodial parent demanding more funds is often mistaken for a person fighting for more personal funds. Non-custodial parents can feel that increases in child support are effectively additional alimony. Divorced parents need to each take responsibility for caring for children’s financial needs. They must make the economic decisions about the children jointly. This requires both parents to consider what the kids need, which needs have priority, and which can be funded.

The frequent inability to fund all needs is another area where couples can stumble as one parent may insist that the children’s lives not be affected by the parents’ divorce. To the extent possible, that’s great, but for most couples the additional expenses of maintaining two households make some cutting necessary. When this occurs it may be necessary for parents to jointly communicate with their children about what has happened (such as the inability to maintain a club membership or attend summer camp) so blame isn’t placed on one parent alone. Changes in one area of a budget (such as the elimination of camp) can result in new costs (additional child care). Each parent must work to anticipate the effects of budget changes and ensure that new needs are met.

The most important tip we find ourselves giving to divorcing couples is to try and separate their feelings about their spouse (and the breakup) from their relationship with their children. If you can step back from the emotional turmoil that surrounds a divorce, and see the bigger picture of how you will interact with your kids over the next twenty or thirty years, you may be able to think impartially about child support in terms of a parenting issue, rather than a divorce issue. We find, unfortunately, that some people are unable to gain this perspective, and instead use child support negotiations as a forum in which to voice issues that have nothing to do with the children, thereby prolonging a marital relationship that needs to be over. Remember that you will be a co-parent with this person long after you are no longer married; you need to learn how to communicate calmly and neutrally, for the sake of your children. Child support is not about you; it’s about your kids.


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