Child Support “Extra” Expenses
Mom and Dad recently got divorced. The three children, aged 5, 7 and 10, stay with Mom roughly 80% of the time and Dad 20%. After a contested trial, Mom and Dad’s divorce decree states that “extra” expenses beyond the basic child support amount “shall be allocated in a pro-rata share” based on their relative incomes. Extra expenses might include: child care, music lessons, sports and other extracurricular fees, tutors, unreimbursed health expenses and private school or college education.
The five year old is in all-day kindergarten that gets out at 3 pm, so Mom and Dad pay a babysitter to pick him up, transport him to after-care and watch him until Mom swings by to pick him up after work. Mom and Dad are encouraging the seven year old’s natural artistic talents by paying for flute and dance lessons. The 10 year old struggles academically and uses a tutor several times a week.
The receipts for these “extra” expenses are flying back and forth. Mom usually pays these bills, since she has the kids more often. Relations between Mom and Dad are already strained after a lengthy court battle, and she resents having to nag Dad for compensation on a weekly basis. Dad bitterly resents having to “pay” Mom for these extra expenses; after all, he already pays her a fortune in alimony.
The trial judge imposed a mathematical formula that was fair, but impractical. In mediation, Mom and Dad could have structured and allocated the extra expenses in a way that benefited both of them. Mediators reject the idea that mediation is a process of dividing the pie. Often, using creativity and flexibility mediators can assist the parties in expanding the pie.
In our example, a mediated solution may provide for Mom paying for these expenses in return for an increased amount of spousal support, which is a deductible expense for Dad. Dad gets a tax benefit and does not feel nickle and dimed. Mom incorporates extra expenses into her budget and does not have to nag dad. Or maybe Mom and Dad each contribute a certain dollar amount each month to a “Children’s Checking Account”, from which agreed-upon extra expenses could be paid. A good mediator would explore Mom and Dad’s specific situation, and help them arrive at a solution that is tailored to their needs.