Divorce Mediation and Child Support in California

At a recent presentation of San Francisco Divorce attorneys designed to provide information to the public, an interesting comment was raised by an attendee. The conversation had been focused on the benefits of divorce mediation and how it can lead to more expeditious and better balanced resolutions to marital problems. The attendee raised her hand and stated words to the effect that she and her husband could not use mediation because, “the only issue between them was child support”.

I pointed out to her that in a very large percentage of the cases that we mediate at our company child support is often an issue. She responded that because child support is a calculation that considers the income of the parties and the “timeshare” of the children there was nothing to negotiate or mediate.

Although, in a sense, what she says is true, it is also true that the nuanced vagaries of day-to-day life and child care needs give rise to many areas of disagreement that should be mediated, not litigated.

It is a fact that the child support guidelines contained in such software programs as DissoMaster will generate a child support number based upon income and custodial time; it is also true that in many families these broad-stroke calculations do not go far enough to ascertain and address true family needs.

In many cases one party will be more involved in clothes shopping, school supplies shopping, enrichment programs and the like. It is only fair that the party who is paying for such costs and activities have the appropriate adjustments made to the child support received or their obligation to pay child support.

Similarly, in many families, where there are two wage earners, it is appropriate that neither party pay any child support to the other, but instead both contribute regularly to a program designed to offset costs of future education expenses.

The point of this article is that it is always best for a family to decide together what an appropriate amount of child support is. To take the round peg that is your family and try to jam it into the square hole that is the broadly drafted “child support guidelines” is oftentimes a mistake. Every family is unique. It is entirely appropriate that each family be the architects of their own plan for the future.

Of course, any stipulation for child support between parents must pass judicial scrutiny. However, it is the experience of this firm that whenever a family chooses to deviate from California’s prescribed guidelines and is credibly able to show cause why it is in the family best interest to do so, the court will allow their agreement.

In short, there is no area of family conflict that is not amenable to mediation. No couple should ever be in a position where they must defer to the authority of a judge to determine what is in the best interests of their child.

David D. Stein has been an attorney for over 20 years and is the founder of Liaise® Divorce Solutions. He is a lawyer, expert divorce mediator, dispute resolution specialist and lecturer on non-violent conflict management techniques and tools.