Most Virginia divorces are resolved out of court, either through mediation or some other form of negotiation. This means the parties go back and forth until they reach an agreement on issues such as property division, alimony and child custody. Once the parties come to terms, they write up an agreement and send it to the court for final approval.
Can parents also negotiate child support?
You can negotiate some aspects of child support, but here your options are more limited. Courts generally will not allow a parent to negotiate away their obligations to support their child. And paying parents generally can’t dictate how the other parent will spend the money.
What is child support?
Child support is different from other aspects of divorce because the legal basis for a child support obligation is not related to the marriage or the divorce. Rather, it’s related to the legal obligation every parent has to provide for the needs of their child. In other words, it’s not an obligation from one parent to another, it’s an obligation from a parent to their child.
The state has an interest in making sure that all children are cared for, and so the state can order a parent to pay for the support of their child even if the parents were never married.
Generally, the state presumes a parent is providing shelter, food, clothing, medical care and other necessities when they are living with their child. If the parent is not living with the child, a court can order the parent to pay child support. A court calculates child support amounts based on the child’s needs and the parents’ ability to pay.
The formulas courts use to calculate the specific amounts can be quite complicated and can depend on a lot of factors that are unique to the parties involved. Generally, the result of these calculations serves as a floor, not a ceiling. That is, the parents are free to negotiate payment in addition to the amount determined by the court.
As we noted earlier, most Virginia divorces today are resolved out of court, and then the court signs off on the agreement. When parents negotiate child support obligations, a court will look at the parents’ plan very carefully. It will approve the agreement only if it finds it to be in the best interests of the child.