Among the many issues facing a separating couple with children is the question of what to do about child support. Although some parties prefer to leave the issue to courts and attorneys, parents are free to execute a voluntary support agreement (VSA) without a trial and submit it to the local child support enforcement agency for administration.
How Child Support Is Usually Calculated
All states now have guidelines that take into account the parties' incomes, medical insurance premiums, work-related child-care costs and extraordinary expenses in calculating a monthly amount of support for one party to pay the other. State law applies a presumption that the guidelines' amount is sufficient to meet the needs of the children and reasonable in light of the parties' incomes and child-related expenses. When parties execute a VSA, however, no guidelines calculation is necessary. Through a process of negotiation and agreement, the parties arrive at a support amount that is sufficient for the recipient and possible for the obligor.
Benefits of Agreeing on a Support Amount
Executing a VSA brings the child support issue to a close immediately, reducing the need for long proceedings that cause both parties to miss work. As state child support guidelines are readily accessible on the Internet, parties can avoid an unnecessary trial by plugging in their numbers and executing a VSA without an acrimonious trial that could harm their co-parenting relationship. In cases where one or both parties' incomes are in dispute or difficult to prove, VSAs give both parties the benefit of certainty in setting child support. Proceeding to trial in an uncertain case may produce a child support figure that is unacceptable to both parties.
Points to Consider in Setting Child Support
Prior to executing a VSA, parties should each meet with a separate attorney to evaluate their legal rights and options. Reading the child support guidelines and their accompanying worksheets can give parents an idea of what variables to consider in setting an amount to include in the VSA; incomes, insurance, day care and regular extracurricular activities are all figures that play into a child support amount. Parties should also consider any imminent changes in their incomes or the needs of the children for whom support is being determined; as states typically restrict the ability of parties to review child support within a given time period absent a compelling set of changed circumstances, planning for imminent change is essential.
The drawbacks of setting child support by VSA are few. In cases where income is uncertain, however, each party generally has to make concessions in order to get the case settled, resulting in one party accepting less than she feels she deserves while the other pays more than he believes the circumstances warrant. Furthermore, whether set by VSA or court order, child support will remain open to modification upon the showing of a substantial and material change of circumstances by either party.