Co-Parenting in a Recession

by Brette Sember

The recession has hit all of us where it hurts the most -- in our wallets. If you're looking for ways to save money, don't forget to look to your co-parenting agreement for ways to make some cuts.

Reduce Legal Fees

If you are currently in a divorce or are back in court arguing over an existing custody plan, think about how much money you are spending in legal costs. Your attorney is likely charging you upwards of $150 or $200 an hour. That's a lot of money to spend on something so unpleasant as a divorce or custody fight.

Obviously, getting a fair divorce settlement or a custody plan that works for your child is very important, but there are lots of ways you can reduce your legal costs:

Try to work it out. Yes, I know you're in court because you can't agree, but if you point out to your ex how much money you're throwing away over this, it might be possible to sit down in a calm and rational way and work something out yourselves. Almost every case settles before trial, so why not work the settlement out yourselves instead of paying lawyers to do it?

Consider mediation. If you can't work it out on your own, hire a mediator to help you do it. Your net cost is going to be much lower than paying for a trial.

Hire collaborative lawyers instead of trial lawyers. These are attorneys who use a cooperative process to reach a settlement everyone can live with. They won't appear in court and your costs will be lower.

Reduce Babysitting Costs

Instead of paying babysitters, agree with your ex that you will use each other as sitters. If you are both doing this, it probably won't change the bottom line division of the time that you each have with your child over a month's time.

If one of you has been laid off or is currently unemployed, reduce day care costs by allowing that parent to provide the care needed. And if you're wondering why you should provide free child care for your ex -- remember, there really is only one pot of money that supports both of you and your child. If your ex can save some money, it will make it more possible for him to meet his child support and alimony responsibilities. It will also benefit your child to spend time with a parent instead of a sitter.

Even if you have a testy relationship with your ex's parents, they are still your child's grandparents, so asking them to babysit benefits them and your child, and saves you a nice chunk of change on babysitting. Being polite for five minutes is going to be worth the money you will save.

Cut Down on Transportation Costs

Many parents have a visitation plan that allows the non-custodial parent to see the child every other weekend and every Wednesday. Whether you're sharing the transportation costs or your ex does all the driving, compacting those visits down can shave some mileage and gas costs. Instead of having a week where visitation happens Wednesday and then also that Friday through Sunday, adjust the schedule so visitation happens Thursday through Sunday, removing two round trips from the equation.

Rethink Health Insurance

Many child support orders direct one of the parents to provide health insurance for the child. It's important for your child to have health insurance, but it pays to sit down once a year and compare the plans available to both of you through your employers. If your ex had been carrying the child on his insurance, but your plan costs less for a family plan, switch the child to your plan and have your ex pay you the difference between a single and family plan.

He will end up with a net savings, and you'll be in control of managing the health insurance. This works in reverse as well. If you were ordered to provide the insurance, but your ex has a less expensive plan, putting the child on that plan and paying your ex the difference saves you money.

Likewise, be sure to compare Flexible Spending Accounts (FSAs) available through your employers. These plans allow you to set money aside pre-tax to pay for medical costs and day care costs. If your employee offers such a plan, it makes sense for you to pay those costs through it and have your ex reimburse you for the costs he is responsible for under your child support order.

Note that even if you both agree to make a change such as this, it is a good idea to submit the agreement to the court as a stipulation so that it becomes part of the court order and there can be no disagreement about it.

Brette McWhorter Sember is a retired family attorney and mediator and nationally known expert about divorce and parenting after divorce. She is the author of:

Learn more about Brette on her web site.

Copyright © Brette McWhorter Sember. Permission to republish granted to Pregnancy.org, LLC.