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The Negotiating Conference: An Alternative for Child Support Disputes

When you and your ex-spouse are having a dispute about child support, there is an alternative that is often quicker, more civil, and less rigid than court.  Rather than scheduling a date to fight it out in court, it is possible that you and your ex can meet in an Office of the Attorney General and go through what is known as a negotiation conference.


These typically take place in the OAG Child Support Office nearest to the custodial parent's home. The conference is a way for both parties to resolve a dispute over what the obligor owes the obligee each month. While it may not reduce the amount an obligor might owe under the couple's previous arrangement, it can be utilized to help make payments more manageable going forward for an obligor who has lost employment or is facing a reduction in income.

 

It is certainly less expensive and easier than court. It is, in fact, a free service that the OAG provides, and all it requires is that one party requests the meeting, and both parties attend along with an OAG representative. They discuss the obligor's ability to pay, including any changes that might have impacted his or her situation, and then determine a monthly payment going forward, which the OAG office then takes to a judge to sign.

 

The obvious advantage here is giving both parties more control with negotiation. They get to discuss the situation and come to an understanding of what is needed and what can be paid. In some situations, it is the rare time that the parties come together and learn what is really going on with each other.

 

There is also a flexibility possible in the negotiations that is not generally afforded in court. The OAG's formula for what an obligor pays the obligee is based on income and how many children an obligor has to support, and in court, it is likely the judge will fall back on that regardless of challenging circumstances. With additional stressful situations that may make that a hard number for the obligor to meet--and in the negotiation meeting, it is more likely for those to be heard, considered, and figured into a final agreement.

 

In fact, I have seen at least one person negotiate something favorable to him in a meeting, but because he literally wanted his day in court, ended up taking the case before a judge who stuck with the formula rather than the lower amount he had negotiated.

 

Lawyers can be present at the negotiating meeting, but do not have to be. Nevertheless, it is a good idea to talk to a lawyer to prepare for the meeting, to go over your situation, what you should and should not say in it, and how to respond to whatever your ex might say.

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