What is Child Support Mediation?

Lori Smith

Child support mediation is a legal process of negotiation that usually occurs just before a final hearing in a family law courtroom. For the most part, financial obligations for the benefit of a minor child are calculated by each jurisdiction's guideline. There are times, however, when extenuating circumstances indicate a need to deviate from it. Child support mediation is a way for parents to come to a mutual agreement about this issue with the assistance of their attorneys and an impartial intermediary. Once an agreement is reached, a settlement can be submitted to a family law judge for approval.

Child support mediation almost always involves both a mediator and both parties' attorneys.
Child support mediation almost always involves both a mediator and both parties' attorneys.

Ideally, major decisions about child support and other issues should be reached prior to a court hearing, but this is not always possible. If the parents are not able to come to a reasonable agreement, the judge will generally make decisions for them. For this reason, it is usually in the parents’ best interest to attend child support mediation with an open mind.

Throughout this process, both parents are often represented by their respective attorneys. In fact, most regions require the presence of each participant’s lawyer during child support mediation. This is to ensure that the agreement they reach is fair and, of course, legal.

The mediator acts as a facilitator and messenger of sorts. Usually, the child’s father will be in one room with his own attorney, while the child’s mother and her lawyer sit in another area of the building. During child support mediation, the parties generally do not have an opportunity to speak to each other directly.

The mediator’s job is to assist each party with negotiation separately and in an unbiased manner — reporting offers and counter-offers to the participants until an agreement is reached. His or her goal is to help the child’s parents reach an amicable resolution for the child support issue, while keeping the child’s best interests in mind. Other issues may also be resolved as well.

In cases when there is outstanding child support, or arrears, owed to a parent, a payment plan can be addressed during child support mediation. For example, if a parent owes $5,000 US Dollars (USD) for back-payments of support, the parties may agree on a lump sum of half that amount, followed by equal monthly payments until the obligation is paid in full. Alternatively, a parent may agree to forgive the arrearage altogether. Even if this occurs, however, a judge may choose not to grant a dismissal of past-due child support unless there is a compelling reason to do so.

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