Rich or poor or somewhere in between, all separating and divorcing people worry, even obsess, about financial exchanges. How much will I have to pay? For how long? How much will I receive? For how long? Will I be able to maintain my lifestyle? Will I have to go to work full-time? Leave the children? Will I have to work 80 hours a week to pay for everyone? Where’s my life? The “Will I’s”, “Will he”, and “Will she” abound. Can you blame anyone? Of course not. Each individual is facing an unknown tomorrow, a tomorrow in which money looms punctuated by the largest question mark.
At the Centre for Mediation and Dispute Resolution, we believe that support is the most difficult arena for divorcing couples. Unlike decisions relating to property, child support agreements are always open to revision. Conversely, agreements pertaining to alimony may or may not be subject to further modification. Therein lies the rub. An agreement determined today may be changed tomorrow.
We, at the Centre for Mediation and Dispute Resolution, believe that you can create an agreement which tackles the present and anticipates the future. We are not suggesting that a crystal ball is needed to reach agreement; we are suggesting that mediation offers the opportunity to consider future areas where change may be needed and, as such, build into your agreement terms or formulas or approaches to deal with the change, if and when it occurs. Let’s consider the questions to be posed for child support and alimony.
A. Questions for Child Support:
Do your incomes fall within the Child Support Guideline population?
Do your children have any special needs?
What do you spend on child-related extracurricular and extraordinary expenses (e.g., camp, non-insured medical and dental expenses, lessons)?
Do you see a change in your children’s needs and costs over time? Be specific, if you can. For example, project when daycare costs will be reduced.
Are there anticipated or projected changes in each party’s income? When? How much?
Should you consider an annual review?
Should you consider adjustment of support? If so, what is the process?
Should your agreement adjust with specified changes (e.g., change of custody, age of the children, children’s needs)?
B. Questions for Alimony:
How do you determine eligibility for alimony? How do you determine an ability to afford alimony?
If alimony is agreed upon, will it be a periodic payment or lump sum payment?
What are the common formulas that are used to calculate alimony? How much money would this leave each party after taxes? Is each party able to fund his and her budget from disposable income? If not, can expenses be cut?
How long should alimony be paid?
Is alimony a flat sum or a percentage of the payor’s income?
Is alimony subject to change? On what basis is the change predicated?
We have only touched on a few of the considerations and questions that are posed in the search for a support agreement. The questions to be asked and the considerations to be undertaken emerge as part of the mediation process. The objective is to fashion a support agreement to help the couple adjust, constructively and cooperatively, to changes in circumstances. With recognition of the family’s financial constraints, a collaborative approach often produces a financial agreement that will protect all family members now and in the future.