Today I’m pleased to bring you a special guest blog written by my colleague Steve Erickson. In his 35 years of experience, Steve has come up with a novel approach to child support that shifts couples away from being adversarial and toward collaboration. This method is called the Child Support Account, and it was originally proposed to Steve by one of his clients — further proof that mediators listen to their clients!
The idea of each parent paying child support money into a joint account is a seismic shift, because it eliminates the need to determine custody before you can compute the state child support guidelines. It is not unlike any small business making a budget for the coming year and then trying to stick to it. Each parent may use the account for the children’s budgeted needs. This eliminates a child being told, “Sorry Timmy, you will have to ask your mother for a 12-speed bicycle. I am sending her $565 per month according to what the State tells me.” It also eliminates the need to say, “Sorry Timmy, you should ask your father for that, he makes three times as much as I do.”
Fathers, who represent the majority of payors, say, “This is great, now I can see where my child support dollars go.” Mothers, who tend to be the recipients of child support, because generally they earn less, and they are more often awarded custody say, “Now he will really see what it costs to raise the children.”
In mediation, parents create a budget of shared children’s expenses and also designate which expenses are not shared. Separately paid expenses not from the account are usually discretionary costs such as recreation, vacations, eating out and gifts. Parents usually contribute to the account monthly based on a pro-rata percentage of their gross incomes, and they may adjust their budgets periodically or change their contributions as their incomes change.
Divorcing parents have been using the children’s account at Erickson Mediation Institute since its invention in 1983 by a mother who suggested the idea. Approximately 95% of our mediating parents use the method. There have been no reported failures in over 3,000 of our mediated cases in the past 35 years.
It has likely been so successful because the use of the Child Support Account changes the focus from How much does my adversary get from me? toward How much does it cost to raise our child? The blaming and fault-finding, the need to first have a custody determination, and the win-lose approach of current child support guidelines is eliminated — parents move from seeing the other side as an adversary to seeing them as a partner, with each helping the children.
It has also been so successful because divorce is essentially not a legal problem. It is a housing problem, a relationship problem, a communication problem, a cash flow problem, a health insurance problem, a transition problem, a boundary problem….well, you get the idea.
Steve Erickson’s forthcoming book titled The Child Support Account will include forms, sample language, strategies to convince the court to allow for a child support deviation, and other helpful advice on how to successfully use the account. It is scheduled to be published fall, 2018. For more information contact firstname.lastname@example.org.