Child Support & Visitation
Child support is almost always a part of the marital settlement agreement. This represents the money the court will order, or the parties can agree to be paid, usually on a monthly basis to one spouse for the support of the children. Usually, the support is paid to the spouse who has custody, since it is necessary for that spouse to provide food and shelter on a regular basis.
In deciding the proper amounts of child support, courts will again look to a number of similar factors as we discussed in the alimony section, including the income of each parent, the amount of time spent at home, the need for paid child care while the custodial parent is at work, as well as other factors specific to each situation. Child support is almost always stated in a monthly or weekly amount in the marital settlement agreement. The period of time that child support must be paid is usually until the child is of the age of majority in the state in which he/she resides or until they finish school. Sometimes, but not often, this may mean college or vocational school beyond high school.
You should know that in most states, the marital settlement agreement contains separate provisions governing the medical and dental expenses of the children, and the educational expenses for the schooling of the child. These are typically spelled out in the agreement, but may not be included in the actual child support calculation. Thus, it is important to deal with each of these factors in writing in your agreement.
Child Visitation Rights
In a divorce proceeding, all courts will provide for visitation of the children by the non-custody spouse. One of the most important factors in making such a provision will be the welfare of the children and their personal desires to some extent. Courts usually try to balance the needs of all parties in the divorce proceedings, but focus on the needs of the children.
Most states do not have any prescribed formulas for visitation rights, but encourage the parties to reach some agreement in this matter. A demonstration by the parties that the rights of the children are adequately protected by the visitation rights provision will enable the court to be comfortable in adding this provision to the marital settlement agreement.
Once a marital settlement agreement is reached that sets forth these rights and has been approved by the court, it is important that each spouse abide by its terms. Agreements which have been approved and which are subsequently ignored or unilaterally changed by one of the parties may subject the spouse that is not adhering to the terms to court admonishment, and/or possible sanctions. In some instances, courts will alter the visitation provisions to further restrict the abusing spouse's visitation rights.
A spouse considering modifying a marital settlement agreement with respect to visitation rights may face a somewhat unpredictable outcome, since much court discretion is at issue in this part of any marital settlement agreement. Any spouse attempting to change the terms of the original visitation rights should be prepared to prove to the court a set of circumstances that warrants the change. For example, a spouse whose job requires him to work 10 weekends per year, and who also has court-ordered visitation on these weekends, might be able to convince the court to modify the order allowing visitation at other times in exchange for the weekends. However, such a case is far from clear-cut and modifying such orders may involve legal fees and attorney time. One ought to have a serious discussion with a Plan Attorney prior to making a determination to proceed.
On the other hand, a spouse that has visitation rights on weekends and subjects the visiting children to drug and alcohol parties each weekend, would likely lose substantial visitation rights, if the other spouse could prove this abusive situation existed. A consultation with your Plan Attorney would be the best choice of action in this case to enable you to analyze the elements necessary to successfully prevail, in the event a change of visitation rights were sought.
This is a general overview of the main concepts in a divorce. All divorce proceedings are largely different in facts and in the ways some of the procedures arise. This is only intended to give a basic overview of the process to help you understand the main concepts.