In recent years, family law practitioners have embraced innovative and progressive approaches to child custody and support matters to help ease the inevitable conflict and emotion that arise when a marriage breaks up. Even so, many of the same problems still occur, especially with child custody and support. Child custody and support disputes can create stress for both custodial and non-custodial parents and because of this, millions of cases return to the courts every year.
After a support obligation is established, whether by settlement or court order, support payments are sometimes delayed or even unpaid for many different reasons. For example, the non-custodial parent may lose his or her job and be unable to meet the financial obligation. When these situations arise, parents must find ways to resolve their disputes. If not, it is their child or children who suffer most. While it may seem easier to make an informal agreement without the hassle and expense of involving legal professionals, parents should instead consider the methods of resolving disputes described below.
Mediation, a common form of dispute resolution, is effective in resolving child support disputes. Through mediation, a neutral third party (the mediator) works with parents to develop their own solution to child support payment schedules, amounts, and enforcement issues. Mediation can involve unrepresented parents and/or attorneys. While mediation is less formal than court or arbitration, non-compliance with the mediated agreement may still require court intervention.
Similar in concept to mediation, arbitration is a form of conflict resolution in which parties present their child support dispute to a neutral third party. Evidence and arguments are presented at a hearing after which the arbitrator renders a decision. The decision is usually binding on the parties. Arbitration is typically less costly than litigation.
Sometimes parents have no choice but to return to court to resolve child support disputes. Courts consider statutory guidelines and each parent’s financial circumstances. In cases where there is a failure to pay obligations, courts may issue strict penalties and punishments. While enforcement of child support is more direct through the courts, parents should be aware that the remedies are outside of their control. Liens, driver’s license suspensions, professional license suspensions and even incarceration can result, potentially causing further stress and conflict.
Child support is not meant to be a penalty. It is every parent’s obligation to ensure that his or her child’s basic needs are met. When parents have child support disputes, there are many options available that can help resolve stressful support issues. Seek the advice of a family law attorney to help you make a decision.