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April 16, 2024 Child Support

Tips for Child Support Mediations

By: Andrea Cozza

This article will provide tips and tricks for making sure you have a successful child support mediation.

  1. Make sure you have current information. Too often attorneys wait until the last minute before trial to exchange updated documents with opposing counsel.  This can mean that the attorney is using income information for settlement discussions or mediation which is stale.  Make sure that when you are headed into a mediation that you have requested and received the most recent income information in advance from both your client and the opposing side, including bonuses or commissions received since your last document exchange.
  2. Identify All Sources of Income.  Make sure you have exchanged your discovery and it is as complete as possible before you get to mediation. If you are missing something - follow up in advance of the mediation.  Look at the tax returns closely.  Review bank and credit card statements to be sure you understand all sources of the deposits. Inquire about cash apps to be sure you are not missing other sources of income. 
  3. Do your Legal Research. Go into the mediation understanding how your jurisdiction handles fringe benefits, restricted stock units, stock options, etc. for purposes of child support. Be more knowledgeable than your opposing counsel. Do not treat this as an item to research only if you go to trial.  
  4. Prepare Your Client. Be sure to review reasonable ranges of settlement with your client well in advance of the mediation.  Whether the mediation occurs with attorneys or not (a decision the attorney needs to discuss thoroughly with the client), the client should be well versed in the range of outcomes that are possible. Do not use valuable mediation time helping the client digest the numbers or try to manage emotions the client may experience seeing those numbers for the first time in mediation.
  5. Look for Creative Solutions. Mediation is a great way to sit down and discuss needs, interests and goals to find solutions outside of the box. The parties will have more flexibility than the judge when crafting the order. Look at the expenses for the family and see if there are creative ways to maximize the financial benefit to all parties. Understand how allocating certain expenses might help create additional tax advantages, thus freeing up money in other areas.  If college funding is important and you are in a jurisdiction that ends support at graduation from high school, perhaps that opens a door for discussion if that is of interest to your client.
  6. Anticipate Problem Areas and Do Not Hide them Under the Rug.  Mediation can be a great time to discuss the logistics of various expenses and financial needs of the children. This can lend itself to identifying areas requiring further discussion. For example, when discussing how payments are going to be made for extracurriculars while considering child support perhaps it is a good idea to discuss the activities of the children and be sure everyone is on the same page with those activities. This can keep the parties from coming right back to court if these types of things weren’t discussed.
  7. Discuss Upcoming Expenses. When considering support options, prior to the mediation have your client think through their budget over the next few years. If they have a pre-teen, consider how school fees might increase and how vehicle insurance and education is going to be paid. What expenses does the client anticipate being included in child support and what expenses over the next few years may need to be addressed outside of child support? Be sure they have thought that through in advance and are prepared to discuss those issues in mediation. Generate a checklist of things that should be discussed at mediation based on that exercise.
  8. Anticipate Imputation Concerns. To make mediation most effective, have any vocational evaluations completed in advance. If there are concerns about underemployment, do your due diligence in discovery to understand what efforts the individual has made to find employment and be prepared to have those discussions.   If necessary, schedule a second mediation session to allow reports to be completed if they weren’t initially so that you can have meaningful conversations prior to trial.
  9. Discuss Deviations. If your state allows for flexibility in child support orders and/or deviations, go over these potential deviation factors in detail with your client prior to the mediation. Plan in advance how you might respond to requests to deviate child support up or down. Evaluate if there are deviation factors that might in fact apply and how to best handle those in the mediation. Anticipate arguments so that you and your client can be prepared and know the range you are comfortable working within for support.
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Andrea Cozza

Esq. Westerville, OH

Chair, ABA Section of Family Law Child Support Committee