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If You Have Primary Custody (Custodial Parent), You Can Still Be Ordered to Pay Child Support?

In a child custody case, there are several areas where custodial and non-custodial parents may end up disagreeing significantly. If you and your co-parent agreed on every issue, you wouldn鈥檛 find yourselves in a child custody case, so this outcome shouldn鈥檛 come as a surprise. Disagreements on certain subjects may necessitate filing a family case, but that doesn鈥檛 guarantee your case will go to court. That is probably one of the most significant misnomers that people in your shoes have about child custody cases.

Child Custody: Court Not Mandatory

Many people in your position assume that they will tell their story to a judge in a child custody case, who then decides the outcome. It鈥檚 a common belief that filing for divorce or a child custody case results in an immediate court appearance and a judge鈥檚 decision. However, this is not true. Going through court to complete your case is the exception rather than the norm.

Rather than going through the courtroom, most people like you who undergo any type of family law case end up settling with their co-parent. This typically occurs in one of two ways. Firstly, you and your co-parent might settle your case informally, even without needing an attorney. By working through your issues, you can reach an informal settlement agreement, whether orally or in writing. You can then use this agreement to draft final orders to operate under in the future.

Next, you could put yourself in a situation where you and your co-parent can settle your case through informal settlement negotiations. For most people, this means hiring attorneys and attending mediation. Mediation is a setup where you and your co-parent mutually agree to name an independent, third-party lawyer to help the two of you settle your case. Rather than have the judge intercede and make decisions for you the mediator would intercede and help the two of you work on the issues together. This works well because the mediator can help you understand what a judge is likely to say on any given issue so that you can anticipate what could happen if you do not settle your case and instead go to trial.

Negotiating hard and being hardheaded don鈥檛 have to be the same thing

I have worked with clients who have been great, tough negotiators. These folks would not back down from a fight and would stick to their principles through thick and thin. Even when their spouse or co-parent would kick and screen on any number of issues these people would not back down and did what they thought was right. I admire folks like this because it is very hard to stand up for what you believe especially when your time, money, and children are on the line. Doing what you think is best for your children is an incredibly admirable quality to possess, especially when that quality can cause you to face massive resistance from your co-parent or spouse.

Here is where being a tough, hard-nosed negotiator can take a hard left turn and become something where you are on the verge of acting hardheaded. In every case, there comes a point where everyone confronts an issue that cannot be negotiated.聽This is your 鈥渉ill to die on鈥, so to speak. Your issue is that you cannot have it any other way than how you want it. You believe so strongly in this issue that nothing your co-parent could say, do or offer makes a bit of difference. Rather, what you try to figure out is how to accomplish that goal. Maybe you need to give up some ground on another issue?

Negotiations vs. Court

At a certain point, you鈥檒l realize that being unable to compromise on a particular subject leads to a dead-end in negotiations. I am a huge fan of negotiations, mediation, and everything that can help you to avoid going to court. However, once you and your co-parent go around the merry-go-round of negotiations enough times it becomes clear that you cannot negotiate your way out of every subject in your case. This means that if you all reach an issue that you cannot negotiate your way through the only way out of the case is to present that issue to a judge.

If you understand this, have done what you can to avoid it, and feel comfortable moving forward then there isn鈥檛 much left to discuss. Attend your hearing or trial and attempt to win on this issue is what you are setting yourself up for. Nothing wrong with that. However, what I would recommend against is doing so when you do not have a great chance of winning in front of a judge. You and your attorney may have overestimated the evidence that you have available to you. Your circumstances may not be conducive to you winning in court. Sometimes you may need to hear that from someone other than your attorney to understand what the stakes are and whether it is worth your while to risk a courtroom venture.

Choosing Wisely: Mediation Over Court

When you hear from a mediator, someone who is completely independent, that you are attempting to win an unwinnable war it should give you some pause when it comes to the proceeding. That doesn鈥檛 mean that you should abandon your principles or give up. You can disagree in good faith with a mediator and decide to move forward to a trial on any issue in your child custody or divorce case. However, to do so without seriously considering the impressions and positions of your mediator would be a mistake. Mediation is your last and best chance to avoid the uncertainty of a family law trial.