This post is from Scott Clarke, a Certified Financial Planner and Certified Divorce Financial Analyst currently in private practice in the Dallas-Ft. Worth area, and a Collaborative Law Institute of Texas Board Member. He has been in the financial advising business since the early 1990s and has specialized in the divorce financial aspects for the past 6 years.
In my experience, one of the areas in which clients are most creative in the collaborative process is in how they choose to structure their children’s expenses in the post-divorce world. Creativity flourishes in this area because many of the clients’ goals and interests focus on how to minimize the impact to the children. Therefore, they develop methods and strategies to address current expenses and to account for when the needs and wants of their children change. Some of the more common approaches include the following:
- Standard Child Support. This is sometimes referred to in the litigation model as the “cookie cutter result.” However, even in the collaborative process, some clients choose this for the sake of simplicity. The key here is that they chose it instead of having this result imposed upon them.
- Standard Child Support plus specifically identifying certain expenses that might be addressed separately/differently. It is not unusual for one or both parents to express a concern about highly variable expenses that cannot easily be addressed by simply relying upon the standard support model. Examples of such items might include any one or more of the following: Private school tuition, select team sports, extracurricular activities, future/anticipated medical expenses, college-related expenses, etc. Therefore, parents facing these potential issues can prospectively negotiate and agree upon how such issues will be handled without being limited by the support guidelines.
- Above-Guideline Child Support. In this scenario, the clients ultimately agree to go beyond what the law presumptively requires in order to meet the perceived needs of the children. There are several reasons for why this might occur. The predominant reason I’ve seen, however, occurs in cases in which the children’s actual monthly expenses exceed the Standard Child Support amount; So, the parents agree to a higher fixed amount of support instead of trying to jointly manage expense records relating to the children.
- Below-Guideline Child Support. Once again, there are several reasons this might occur. However, the predominant reason I’ve seen is that there just aren’t many expenses, either now or predicted in the future, for the child/children. While one parent might be legally entitled to receive more support from the other in a courtroom, the parents ultimately agree to a lower amount because the actual needs of the children are being met to the satisfaction of both parents.
These are just of the few of the most common solutions I have seen parents accomplish. The most gratifying part of the experience for me is to see that the parents themselves have identified their children’s individualized needs, and negotiated a customized solution that actually addresses those needs through the collaborative process, instead of allowing a perfect stranger in a black robe to impose a solution upon the whole family.