In Virginia, it is often a good idea for separating parents to make their own child support agreements, rather than rely on the court to decide child support. If the courts decide the terms of your child support agreement, they will follow Virginia child support guidelines as required by the General Assembly.
The amount required by the guidelines depends on the combined income of both parents and how many children they have together. Based on these factors, the guidelines will set a minimum amount of support that will be paid by the parents on behalf of their children.
Because these guidelines are set by a legislature, and applied by a judge, they might not work well in your individual situation. There is another option. It is called a “child support agreement”.
The Smart Alternative
The smart alternative to having the court decide support is letting the parents decide how much support is needed for their children and in what form that support should be. Nobody knows your children and their needs better than the parents. Neither the General Assembly, nor a judge are capable of making better decisions for your family than two loving and committed parents.
Notice the use of the phrase “loving and committed parents.” Parents that are not primarily interested in doing what is best for their children, or are looking to “stick it” to the other parent, are not good candidates for a child support agreement. Further, if the other parent is a victim of spousal abuse or intimidation, it is not a good idea to enter negotiations with the other parent.
But suppose that you and your partner can work out an agreement together, out of court, with or without your attorneys involved, and then bring it to court for the judge’s approval. This is legal, doable and it may give you a little more freedom to customize the amount and type of support for your family’s unique needs.
It is important to note that a judge will review your agreement to ensure the best interests of your child or children, will be met – the standard in all aspects of Virginia custody, visitation, and child support law.
What you will need to discuss with your partner
If both parents are loving and committed to providing for their children’s best interests, they should consider making a Virginia child support agreement. To proceed with making an agreement, you will have at least four major issues to work out:
- How much to pay
- How often to pay
- The method of payment
- The duration of the payments
Some parents may also want to settle other issues. These may include contributions to their child’s college fund, or who will be responsible for insurance premiums.
How Much should I Pay
In Virginia, each parent’s share of child support is determined by how many days each parent will have with the children during the year. The most common arrangement is shared custody where the non custodial parent has the children at least 90 days each year. The courts provide a child support worksheet that can be used to calculate each parent’s share of support as required by the guidelines.
The reason smart parents make their own agreements is that the amount paid and the form of the “payment” can be altered to fit the family’s individual needs. If the parents know that the paying spouse will never be able pay the amount suggested by the guidelines, they might agree to a lower, more achievable amount.
Further, doing so might actually promote a better relationship with the other spouse, as well as the children, and prevent the need for constant future litigation to enforce the support order.
Another benefit of making a support agreement is access to the barter system. If a parent is cash-poor but wealthy in skills or connections, they might arrange for services to the custodial parent that are actually worth more to the custodial parent than the money which he/ she might be otherwise be entitled. This would result in a win-win for both parents.
In matters of support, creativity and cooperation might promote the family’s objectives much better than the one-size-fits-all amount required by the support guidelines.
How often should I pay?
If decided by the courts, the payments made by non-custodial parents will be required on monthly basis. Each time a parent fails to make the full payment as ordered, they can be held in contempt of court. Most parents only make one payment each month for the entire amount due.
However, there is nothing to prevent parents from agreeing to payments or services every two weeks, or even every other month. This is the beauty of making your own agreement, The parents decide, so long as it does not harm the children’s interests.
The Method of Payment
Generally, support payments are made in a way that makes them easily track. Because the paying parent is always susceptible to accusations by the other parent that he/ she has not paid, most parents use check, or money orders. However, there is no specific requirement.
Theoretically, parents could arrange to make their support payments directly to their children’s service providers, or could make a variety of other arrangements, which might include making car payments, or providing other specific services that benefit the children.
The main point is that the method of payment should be done in such a way that both parents and a judge can easily track and determine whether the payment was made.
Duration of the Payments
In Virginia, a parent is required to provide for their children at least until they turn 18 years old. However, you might have to continue making payments if he or she:
- is still a full-time high school student; and
- not self-supporting and living in the home of the person seeking support;
payment will need to be made until the child is 19 or graduates from high school.
In addition, support must continue for a child above 18 who is severely and permanently physically or mentally disabled.
How to get Started
First, decide who will be involved.
Can just you and your spouse put together the agreement, or do you need more help?
Obviously, this would be the least expensive option, since you wouldn’t be paying an attorney or a mediator. However, this will only work if you are on good enough terms with your partner to be able to put an agreement together without outside help, and you are confident that you can come up with an agreement that the court will accept.
Should I hire an Attorney or Mediator?
A mediator or a family law attorney can really help in this area. They may be able to save you the time and the headache of trying to understand all the details of what the courts will expect to see in your agreement. They will help you understand both your legal rights and your obligations. So it may very well be worth the expense, to have their assistance.
You and your partner can work out the agreement between yourselves, and then have your attorney look it over before submitting it to the court for approval. Or you can include your mediator or attorney through the entire process, if you wish.
If you choose to hire one, your attorney will have the job of helping you put together a child support agreement letter, which must be written from the point of view of both parents, signed by both parents, and then submitted to the court for consideration.
What will the court do with my agreement letter?
The judge will review it and, if the best interests of the child are protected, the judge is likely to enter the order. Generally, this order will reflect the the agreed terms, unless the judge finds good cause to reject certain provisions.
Smart parents make their own child support agreements, because it means less time and expense in court, and it allows you to customize your agreement for your situation. If you can work with your spouse, you may get a better deal through agreement than you could get under the support guidelines. However, the best needs of your children will always need to be considered.
Remember, a support agreement becomes a court order once it is approved by a judge. You may be waiving certain rights or undertaking obligations. If uncertain, you should always seek the advice of an experienced Virginia attorney.