As long as I’ve been a mediator, clients have had the misconception that Settlement Agreements are pre-printed so we just fill in the names and dollar amounts for every client that comes in. That is very far from the truth. In fact, every Agreement has to be custom written and as the years have passed, the manner in which we write Agreements has changed.
In the Old Days, there was always equity in the house to divide. The kids graduated from college at age 21, went out into the workforce and got jobs immediately. You would only see the kids on holidays and other special events. Boy, how that is no longer the case. What is happening more and more is that children, after graduating from college with all their student loan debt, cannot get jobs allowing them to enter the workforce, so they cannot afford to get their own place and they move back in with one or both parents.
The Agreements we now write often address areas like health care beyond 21, allowing the kids to be covered with health insurance up to 26, and also levels of support beyond 21. When you have one or more kids over the age of 21 living at home, your food bills are through the roof, in addition to auto expenses, insurance, etc. So who pays for that? Is it a question of responsibility? Is it a legal obligation? Or is it something that parents decide and agree to?
When parents are getting divorced, the parent paying child support wants to know how long they have to pay. In New York State, it is until age 21 as long as the child is un-emancipated. “So I don’t have to pay beyond age 21, right?”
But this is the dilemma. They are your kids. They are living at home. Somebody has to help them with support until they can get out in the workforce and get a job.
That is the question that parents today face, which is very different from the way it used to be. We now are writing Agreements and addressing issues that are new and challenging. So what is reasonable and how do you get there?
This is the beauty of mediation. It allows parents to be creative, and make decisions about real issues they have as parents, not just their obligations under the law.