However there’s a new approach to child support that is gaining popularity and makes sense for many couples.
The result of this approach is parents no longer have to keep track of who spent more on back to school clothes, made the school cafeteria payment, or wrote the check to join Boy Scouts. By having joint access to the account parents can see exactly where the money goes. Parents can agree ahead of time how the money is to be spent. Jackie Kittrell, a Knoxville attorney, had clients who agreed to meet at a restaurant once a month to discuss their child and used the checkbook to pay for that meal.
“I’ve used the checkbook approach twice and both times the parents really liked it,” says Kittrell. “For one couple it took away this shadow of distrust about where the money for their teen-ager’s extracurricular activities was going.”
Typically the budget is revisited and updated yearly. When large or unexpected expenses arise outside the initial budget categories (e.g. school formals, class trips) parents can agree to first discuss the expense to decide if they are willing to pay it and then determine if it should come out of the child’s checkbook. If the checkbook balance becomes too high or low, or there is a change in one parent’s income, that can be an automatic trigger for a conversation about modifying the contributions each parent makes. A stipulation is usually included that if a parent violates the agreement about how to use the checking account they will revert to a standard child support order. This is a consequence most couples do not want once they realize the benefits of the child’s checkbook approach.
The child’s checkbook has been used successfully in Knoxville and across the nation. Stephen Erickson has been using this model for years with great success in his Minnesota mediation practice. He notes that often parents happily pay more per month than required by the child support calculator because they see exactly how the money is spent. The checkbook also reduces conflict between the parents, a welcome relief to the children.
The only issue not addressed by this method is the presumption that child support helps a parent with less income provide a reasonable standard of living for the child post-divorce. For this reason, the child’s checkbook may be best suited for families where both parents work and the children will spend similar amounts of time with each parent.
Click here to see an example of a co-parenting agreement that uses the child’s checkbook and a sample budget.