By Lisa S. Fine, Attorney and Mediator
The general consensus among Long Island Divorce Lawyers is that Child Support on Long Island should not be determinative in deciding Custody and Parenting Time. In fact, it isCustody and Parenting Time that is a factor in determining Child Support, not the other way around. All too often, however, parties in an adversarial Divorce find themselves fully involved in an all out Custody battle because one party wants to pay less, and the other wants to receive more.
Some of the Courts in New York have set up programs that involve the parties being sent to mandatory Mediation in Court to work out the issue of Custody before the parties have any discussions about Support in Court. Unfortunately, this can be unrealistic for several reasons. Firstly, one of the first things that I advise participants at the initial meeting is that Mediation is a wholly voluntary process that they are free to stop at any time. Court
mandated or forced Mediation completely disregards this important principle.
Additionally, the Court mandated Mediation in a Divorce case is focused only on Custody and Visitation, and leaves the parties to return to the typical adversarial ways concerning all other issues, which can then result in the Mediation being unsuccessful.
The parties may not fully understand the financial impact of their decisions they make with respect to Custody and Visitation which is problematic. Although finances should not be determinative, parties should be fully informed before making important decisions that can have serious financial impact on their lives. For example, if a Father has a
child for half of the time, will the Court still make him pay full child support? If there is sole custody to one party, and the child is enrolled in many expensive extracurricular activities, would the non-custodial parent have to pay their share even if they had no say in the enrollment? The process of Mediation avoids these pitfalls and creates a
situation where the parties can discuss Custody and Support issues together in a rational, controlled fashion.
Mediation is a voluntary process that may not work as well in a situation where the parties are being forced to attend. For example, participants in Mediation that have chosen the process of Mediation may be more likely to embrace the process and all it has to offer. Parties who are forced into Mediation may be hesitant to open up for fear that it
may affect their strategy they worked out with their Attorney. Court mandated Mediation may find the parties reluctant rather than willing participants, making final resolution that much harder.
In my Mediation sessions, I suggest that the parties first discuss Custody and Parenting Time or Visitation before discussing financials. Once we have established an agreed upon Parenting Plan, then the parties begin to discuss Equitable Distribution and Support.
We incorporate the parties’ financial discussions into the existing Parenting Plan, and see if the formula is still manageable for the parties. This offers a more complete and global approach allowing the parties to reach resolution f all issues in conjunction with each other, without Child Support taking center stage over what is best for the children in terms of living arrangements, decision making and Parenting Time.