Child support is one of the most contentious issues involved in a family law case. We see that these cases typically involve emotional subject matter as well as proven needs of children. To cap it off, child support means that money will be paid from one parent to another during and after a family law case. This typically leaves a salty taste in the mouths of most people involved. For this reason, it is recommended that you know as much as possible about the process before entering a child support case.
The more prepared that you are for a case the more likely you are to be able to resolve sooner rather than later. When you consider that a family law case can be lengthy based on the disagreements experienced by the parties involved, you want to minimize the opportunities for the two of you to find conflict around every corner. Despite what many people believe about family law cases a disagreement between parents is not necessary at every juncture of your child support case. Rather, there are steps you can take to reduce the likelihood of conflict in a child support case and to do what is best for your children in the process.
The goal of minimizing disagreement and disruption in the life of your children begins with hiring the right family law attorney for your case. The attorneys with the Law Office of Bryan Fagan are equipped to be able to help you get through whatever difficult circumstances you find yourself involved in during the life of your case. We want you to feel prepared and confident as you negotiate child support. When you want to learn more about our office what should you do? Contact us by phone, email, or through our website. Our licensed family law attorneys offer free-of-charge consultations six days a week in person, over the phone, and via video.
What is child support?
Before we can discuss child support, we need to define what it is and what purpose it serves. Child support is a payment of money from one parent to the other which is made to help the child meet their minimum, basic needs. These basic needs are things like food, shelter, clothing, and health care. The idea that child support is intended to help a child maintain a certain lifestyle would not be accurate unless that lifestyle were basic. Otherwise, you should not go into child support negotiations assuming that you would have to pay an amount of child support sufficient to help your child live the life that he or she used to before a divorce, for instance.
Child support is most typically paid by the parent who has visitation rights to the child (noncustodial parent) to the parent who has primary custody (custodial parent). The amount of child support depends upon the specific needs of your child and what is in his best interests. The Texas Family Code contains provisions that help guide parents on how much child support is a standard based on the net monthly income of the paying parent as well as the number of children which are before the court. Anywhere from 20% to 40% of a parent’s net monthly income can be paid by a parent monthly. If you expect that you will be the parent who pays child support, then you can review your net monthly income and then reduce it by a certain percentage starting at 20% to start to get an idea of how much child support you can expect to pay in your case.
Factors like different impairments or disabilities suffered by your child in addition to your income will also impact how much child support you can expect to pay in child support each month. For example, if your child has a physical or mental disability that requires a certain amount of medical care each month then you may be in line to pay more than the guideline levels of child support each month. This is information that you will need to have available for you during your child custody or divorce case. The more specific you can be about the needs of your child and the more evidence you can have pointing to the specific needs of your child the better off you would be while negotiating this subject with your child’s other parent.
Additionally, child support is intended to cease for your child when he turns 18 or graduates from high school, whichever happens later. For most of you reading this blog post, you can expect that child support ends sometime around high school graduation. However, if your child is nearing the end of their high school career but suffers from some sort of disability or impairment then child support may need to extend past their 18th birthday or high school graduation. This is a relevant factor for child support negotiations. If you have statements from doctors or other evidence pointing towards the need for extended child support, then you should have this in writing prepared for your family law case.
As we mentioned before, child support can initially seem like a relatively simple subject that is determined in large part by statutes and factors that are beyond your control. However, it is also true that in certain situations child support can become a heated, emotional, and much more complex subject. In situations like that it is recommended that you have an experienced family law attorney by your side to help you plan for the events surrounding child support negotiations. An attorney can be worth their weight in gold when it comes to being able to help you plan for and avoid potential problems when it comes to child support. Having an attorney on board to serve you as early as possible in the case can put you in a good position to avoid heated disagreements and instead be able to focus on the facts as they are as well as the best interests of your child.
How is child support paid?
The next relevant question to ask ourselves here is to determine how child support is paid. Like with most things in life, it is one thing to have a good idea, but you need to see that idea come to fruition for it to make a difference in anyone’s life. You and your co-parent may be in complete agreement on the child support which needs to be paid but unless that money can find its way to your co-parent and then your child it does not do anyone a bit of good. Therefore, you should know how the child support payment makes it from Parent A to Parent B.
The part of this discussion which is often overlooked is the communication between parents throughout the process of paying child support. No matter if you are the parent who will be paying child support or if you are the parent who will be receiving child support, there are responsibilities that you need to attend to-starting with having an open line of communication with your co-parent. The better you can communicate with one another the better off you will be as far as making sure that there are no hiccups along the way when it comes to these payments. Remember that you will budget for child support every month- whether you are the parent who will be paying or spending the child support. Therefore, to ensure that your budgets hold up the child support must be paid in full and on time each month. If you can minimize disruption of the child support, then you position yourself better relative to providing for your child and maintaining a good relationship with your co-parent.
What does this mean on a practical level? If you are the parent who will be receiving child support, then you need to let your co-parent know if you do not receive the child support on time. There can be issues that are out of his control that he may not know about which lead to child support not being received on time. An example is if his employer does not withhold the correct amount for one month and you end up being paid half as much support as you are entitled to. For that, you can contact your co-parent and inform him of this. From there, he can contact his employer to get to the bottom of what has happened and make a correction if need be.
You are trying to avoid a situation where you jump to conclusions, get upset, and immediately go and file an enforcement case against your co-parent. An enforcement case seeks to enforce the terms of your initial child support order. This would be a last resort for families like yours. You do not want to bring everyone back to court if you can avoid it. Therefore, talk to your co-parent about these issues and see if there is a reasonable explanation provided. If there is, and he can then provide you with a reasonable timeline for getting back on track with payments, then you can likely avoid having to go back to court.
On the other hand, if you are the parent who pays child support then you also need to be able to communicate well with your co-parent. When your child support case is wrapping up you will sign what is called a wage withholding order. That wage withholding order will be signed by a judge after your employer’s information is filled out. What this order accomplishes is making sure that your employer can withhold your wages up to a certain point each pay period so that child support is paid on time and in full. Think of it like having money taken out of your paycheck to automatically invest in your 401(K). The automatic payments make life simpler for everyone involved.
Where you can run into issues is if you lose your job, find another job, or generally change employers. In that case, you may find yourself in a position where that wage withholding order does not do you much good anymore. To avoid a situation where your co-parent does not get the child support on the first of the month you should anticipate any changes and inform her about it. Hopefully, you would have set aside some money to pay child support if something like this happens. If you have not, then you can at least inform your co-parent about these issues ahead of time so that she can know what to expect.
At that point, you can work with her on developing a payment plan or an alternative method of payment that suits you all and the needs of your child. If it is only one month’s worth of child support that is owed, you may be able to just pay her the child support before the end of the month. If you find yourself in a position where you are going to be out of work for an extended period, then you may need to get more creative with your co-parent as a way of paying her back. It may mean going to court and requesting a reduction in your monthly child support modification. To do this you would need to be able to show that a material and substantial change has happened in your circumstances. On top of that, the judge would need to find that the modification was in the best interests of your child.
When it comes to these sorts of issues it is best that you have an experienced family law attorney by your side to help guide you. There is nothing more frustrating than knowing that you must attend to and not having the funds or the ability to pay. Remember that it is your child who is the ultimate beneficiary of this money. Your co-parent is just the one who facilitates payment. If you can view the situation from this perspective, then you will find that you are more likely to maintain open lines of communication and not get frustrated with the process over time.
What to do in child support mediation?
When you are in child support mediation that means you are likely entering the end phase of your case. Hopefully, you and your co-parent have been negotiating consistently throughout the life of your case. This way you all are aware of the circumstances that you find yourselves in as well as establishing open lines of communication and mutual trust on the subject. You both may not agree with one another on each issue when it comes to child support but at the very least if you can trust the other person then you will not assume the worst when the person makes a settlement offer that is short of what you want.
Mediation involves you and your co-parent attending a negotiation session, usually at the office of a neutral, third-party mediator. This mediator is likely a family law attorney himself. He will put you in one room and your co-parent in another room. Then, the mediator will act like a ping pong ball- bouncing from room to room to discuss settlement offers, pointing out issues that you may not have thought about and generally facilitating the discussion being held between the two parties.
Having a fresh perspective on the situation can be of great assistance- especially at the stage of a case where attorneys and clients can start to become fatigued with going through the same material time after time with seemingly little movement. You can lean on your attorney to help you select a mediator who is skilled and experienced. There is usually a cost to attend mediation. However, these costs pale in comparison to the costs of preparing for a trial.
If you have special costs and considerations related to your child which you feel are relevant, then you should be prepared to discuss those in mediation. Having documents ready to go where you and your co-parent can refer to them in mediation is a great idea. For example, let’s say that you are trying to argue that your child needs to receive an amount of child support that is higher than the guideline amount. Having specific costs, budgeted out, to show your co-parent can be an effective tool to prove your point. If you are speculating on the costs of child support and do not have specific information to go off then you cannot expect your co-parent to necessarily see eye to eye with you on those particular topics. Just like anything else you do in a family law case, the failure to prepare means that you ought to prepare to fail.
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