Using the Collaborative Law process, we feel impelled to be creative with solutions, even where there are standard guidelines in the Texas Family Code for such things as how to set child support. In most litigation cases, the child support amount is quickly set by following the standard formula. The Code deals with the amounts of income and the number of children before the Court, as well as considering if there are other children that need to be supported.
There's nothing wrong with the guidelines, but they seem mechanical and may not fit some situations. When we're in the Collaborative process, we usually consider other approaches, although we sometimes go back to the guidelines.
For those looking to be a little more original and creative, here are some quick ideas to think about:
1. Correlate the support to the amount of time each parent has the child. One way to do it is to decide that the support paid by a parent is reduced in relation to the amount of time that parent has the child. That makes some sense because obviously the expenses for the child grow for a parent as the parent has more time with the child.
2. Set up a fund to pay certain expenses. If the parents expect the child to participate in expensive activities, such as select sports or high-level dance or music lessons, they may be able to set aside existing money in a savings account. They can move funds into a designated account that would pay all or most of the expenses for certain activities. That would eliminate the need to communicate and negotiate for payment of the extra expenses.
3. A parent could agree to pay all or a part of expenses for the child within a specified range. For example, a parent could pay up to $2,500.00 per year for all extracurricular expenses. Where one parent has more resources than the other, that's a good way to try to keep the child in a standard of living similar to how they were living before divorce.
4. A parent could agree to pay all or part of all extracurricular activities, regardless of the amount. For example, a parent could pay for all baseball or dance or music or cheerleading expenses.
5. For special needs, the bills could be allocated between the parties. If it's known in advance, the bills can be assigned. Another way is for each parent to contribute specified amounts to a fund to pay the for special needs.
6. The parties could read about how other states do their child support and may choose someone else's scheme or choose parts of other states' plans. Texas doesn't have a monopoly on good ideas and there are some worthwhile plans around the country.
7. The child support could be adjusted to consider the community and separate property and debts of the parties. If someone has more assets, maybe they can afford to pay more support.
These are just a few ideas. There are lots of ways to meet the child's needs and minimize conflicts between the parents. Please share any good ideas you have for customizing child support in the Collaborative Law process.