By Jennifer M. Paine
Chances are, at some point during your child custody case, you will hear the following phrase: I will give you more parenting time if you pay me more child support.
Maybe your soon-to-be ex will not be so blunt, by saying some thing like I’m not sure I can live on that little amount of support, or her divorce attorney will be more bold by saying something like You just want equal time so you don’t have to pay as much child support.
But, the point is all the same: if you “really” wanted to spend time with your kids, you would not be concerned about paying “a little extra” to do so.
But is that the right approach? For many reasons, the answer is No!
In many states, if you agree to pay more child support than the law would require, you may not be able to get out of that agreement if you lose income or your ex gains income.
But before you respond back to your soon-to-be-ex and her attorney that they are greedy-no-good-you-know-whats, take a step back and identify the problem.
More often than not, the root of that problem is not greed but something else –and something you can fix.
Sometimes, the problem is paying for extracurricular activities, sports, school trips, etc. In most states, these are “extras” that are not included in base child support, which is intended for food, clothing, shelter and necessaries, or medical support, for doctor’ visits, prescriptions and healthcare treatment.
Rather, they are an additional expense that parents either agree to pay, agree to share, or, if their child support order or divorce decree is silent on who pays what, fight over for eons to come.
Believe me, it is not fun, but common, for parents to come back to court to fight over who pays for ice time for hockey, cleats for soccer, and hotels for travel dance team.
When parents do not agree, the parent who wants to keep the child enrolled in the activity will tend to hoard child support in order to do so.
We know that, generally speaking, the more parenting time that parent has, the more child support that parent receives, and thus, the need to keep more than equal time.
If your child is enrolled in an activity, and presumably one the child enjoys, then make arrangements for paying for it separate and apart from child support.
Always talk with a divorce attorney, though, to make sure you are not locked into paying activities your income may not support in the future, which an appropriately drafted order will prevent.
In doing so, you eliminate the need to grab onto days of parenting time to keep your child support obligation higher.
Other times, the problem is poor budgeting for both parents.
The reality is, when a married household divides into two households, living expenses increase rather than divide into half. The family can no longer share overhead for housing, utilities, and insurance, and it must provide for two households on about the same income.
Your spouse, though, will likely perceive you as “living the good life” in a bachelor pad while she is saddled with the kids – and, from that perspective, will ask for as much money from you as possible to support them.
Sit down together, or email each other if you cannot, to create budgets for each household to show such is not the case, as well as to determine how to support your child going forward.
This may, and often does, mean trimming the excess (e.g., basic cable rather than the movie channel package) so that both households have sufficient funds to support the child – and the child is more likely to spend time in both.
The problem here is adjusting to a post-divorce lifestyle and that is fixed by budgeting.
Fear of Unknown
Most of the time, fear of the unknown comes from facing the single life. This is particularly true for families featuring a stay-at-home parent and a working parent.
The parent who did not work is usually the one most worried about “making it all work” post-divorce, when money is more limited, or feels to be anyway.
It is prudent for both of you to sit down with your divorce attorneys to identify your assets and how they will be divided, then a financial planner to determine what is the best use of those assets (Investment? College? Trust?).
The more educated the both of you are as to how your assets will work for you post-divorce, the less likely your spouse is to feel the need to “grab whatever she can” now to be safe. The problem here is the fear of the financial unknown, and this is a fear both of you can fix by planning ahead.
Then there are those spouses who are just plain greedy and bent on taking from you that which is most important to you – your parent-child relationship.
For those spouses, no matter how much negotiating, budgeting and planning you do, the response will be the same – pay me X or else.
No matter what you offer to do, the answer is the same – and that means, like a slippery slope, even if you offer to pay more, more will eventually not be enough.
For those spouses, the best approach is probably a trial during which the family court judge can see the greed for all of its glory and fashion a schedule for you that you would never get otherwise.
But, believe it or not, those spouses are rare. If you can identify the real problem for yours feeling the need for more child support, then you might very well find yourself in an equal parenting time schedule easier than you expected.
Cordell & Cordell:
Jennifer M. Paine is a Michigan Divorce Lawyer with Cordell & Cordell. She is licensed to practice in Michigan, and has been admitted pro hac vice in Illinois, Ohio, and the United States Court of Federal Claims.
Ms. Paine received her Bachelor of Arts in English and Mathematics from Albion College and graduated Summa Cum Laude. She received her Juris Doctorate from MSU College of Law and graduated Summa Cum Laude.