Child Support by Agreement
While it's common for a judge to decide on child support, parents can also reach agreements between themselves on child support. There are two ways that a child support agreement can be reached outside of court:
- Parents can reach an agreement using informal settlement negotiations
- Parents can use a form of Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR), such as mediation or collaborative family law
Child Support by Agreement: Informal Negotiations
If parents are willing, they can negotiate their child support agreement with or without the assistance of attorneys. The issues that must be decided include:
- Who pays?
- Payment amount
- Any additional items to be covered beyond basic support (private school, daycare, activities, college)
- Frequency of payments
- How long child support will continue
In some cases, the parents may prefer to have their attorneys handle the negotiations. Or the parents may negotiate themselves and then consult with their attorneys before finalizing the child support agreement and submitting it to the court.
Child Support by Agreement: Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR)
For parents who need help resolving their child support dispute, an alternative dispute resolution (ADR) method like mediation or collaborative law may help.
ADR processes are less adversarial, which can facilitate early settlement. With mediation and collaborative family law, parents and their attorneys have an active role in negotiating key decisions. With a skilled mediator, even couples in conflict can find ways to work together. But both parties need to be willing to try.
Although rarely used in family law cases, arbitration is another ADR option. In arbitration, a neutral third party makes the decision after hearing each side's evidence and arguments. The arbitrator's decision in a child support case is not necessarily final. The parties can still resort to family court.
Finalizing the Child Support Agreement
If parents reach an agreement through negotiation or ADR, one of their lawyers will prepare a written agreement. The agreement may be called a "settlement agreement." If child support is part of a divorce, it may be called a "divorce agreement" or "dissolution agreement."
The document is submitted to a judge for approval before entry of a formal child support order. The judge will ensure that what the parents have agreed to also complies with state guidelines on child support.
There may be an informal court hearing, during which the judge will ask questions to make sure each party understands the terms of the agreement.
The agreement will almost always receive court approval if the judge is satisfied that:
- The child support agreement was fairly negotiated,
- It was entered into voluntarily, and
- The terms do not contradict state guidelines.
In most states, the agreement becomes a binding court order or "decree." Parents (or other parties to the agreement) must adhere to it or face legal consequences.
For example, if a child support settlement agreement has become a court order, and the payor parent repeatedly fails to make support payments on time, the other parent can go to court to enforce the child support order. The non-paying parent could face fines, the loss of a drivers' license, even jail time if they do not pay their child support arrears.
Get Legal Help from a Trusted Attorney
Ending a marriage, determining who gets custody of the child(ren), and calculating child support can be emotionally exhausting. If you and your spouse are able to agree on the terms of child support you will find you have saved time and money. But ask a lawyer to review your child support agreement to minimize the possibility of a legal challenge by a judge. Find a qualified family law attorney near you.
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