The court always maintains jurisdiction to oversee child support, but there are many aspects that can be mediated. This could range from setting an initial amount, agreeing to modification, or (in the case of arrearage) setting out the terms by which the amount overdue might be made up or even forgiven in part (if that is appropriate). Once parties agree to the modified terms, this should be taken to the court for approval. Because the mediated terms are uncontested, however, court action to seek ratification of the agreement will be less expensive than a court battle. The advantage of mediation is not just to save time and expense, however. A key advantage of mediation is that it allows for better solutions.
The idea of mediation is to help parties do the best they can with the resources they have. For instance, if a spouse is unemployed and really doesn’t have ability to pay, it doesn’t do much good to throw them in jail. It might be better use of resources to help that parent get a job. Or, perhaps there are other, emotionally based, issues that may be interfering with payment of child support. Or perhaps a child has a disability or special need and an increase in support is needed to meet that need. Mediation is an opportunity for the parents to try and work through challenging issues – no matter what they are — to find the best possible solution.
And this includes creative solutions. For instance, one time a spouse was unable to meet child support obligations because of financial difficulties caused to that spouse by a third party. The spouse seeking child support offered to help the delinquent spouse in filing a collection action against the person who had caused the underlying issue. This is definitely not a remedy that could have been ordered by a court of law.
Mediation may not work. If it fails, then the fallback is to go to court and ask a judge to decide. But, there’s a chance that it could work and that it could help things get resolved quickly, efficiently, and amicably.
In the case of child support modification, there are serious legal consequences to not paying the right amount. A party who fails to pay in accordance with the decree could end up in jail. Therefore, parties who agree through mediation for a modification of child support should take steps to have that approved by the court and made into a court order. However, because it is uncontested, a “friendly” court action costs a fraction the cost of a court battle.
To begin the process, discuss mediation with the other party (perhaps break the ice by showing them a copy of this article), or call 803-414-0185 to schedule an appointment if you both agree to mediate.
(If one or the other won’t mediate, or if you can’t agree at mediation, then you will need to go to court to decide the issue after all. If parties do need to go to court, the best choice is to hire an attorney to help them. If you cannot afford an attorney, you may click HERE for my blog post listing some resources for people who can’t afford an attorney. Or, link directly to the S.C. Supreme Court web page, where there are forms for self represented litigants seeking to INCREASE or REDUCE child support. Instructions are HERE. )