Shani contacted Leskin Law and Mediation regarding a divorce. She and her husband and been married for six years and had two young children. Shani is 34. Michael is 37. Michael worked and brought home about $49,000 a year. They did not own a home. They had less than $5,000 in retirement savings through a 401(k) through Michael’s employer. They have two young children, ages 4 and 8. Shani had not worked the last two years to stay home to raise the kids. She worked in the past as a records custodian at a hospital. Following an illness, the couple had run up a large amount of medical debt.
Shani and Michael were able to agree to most of the issues regarding the property. However, they could not resolve their issues with creating a parenting plan and how to handle the debt. Additionally, Shani wanted to continue to remain home with the children and wanted spousal support.
Soon after the mediation started, it became clear that there was not enough money on Michael’s salary to support two households. He was not opposed in principle to paying spousal support but he was afraid that he would not be able to pay child support, spousal support and pay the debt and have sufficient money left over to meet his own needs.
The parties had discussed filing for Chapter 13 bankruptcy. At the Pre-Mediation Conference, it was agreed that they would discuss filing bankruptcy with a bankruptcy attorney. They were cautioned that they would need to file bankruptcy together so that creditors could not go after the other. In Oregon, creditors can go after either spouse for debts incurred in the marriage, including medical debt.
At the mediation, both agreed that they did not want to file bankruptcy. They agreed that Michael would take the debt, but not pay spousal support, and that Shani would need to return to work. Shani’s earnings would impact the child support calculation, and the kids would need day care, it was not possible to complete the Child Support Calculation. Further, the couple had very different ideas about which parent would get the kids and when. Michael wanted a 50/50 time split, and Shani voiced a preference for a more traditional parenting plan.
In court, the judge is required to use a “best interest of the child” standard to decide issues relating to custody and to the parenting plan. The parent with custody is the parent who gets to make the final decisions regarding the child’s welfare, religious upbringing, schooling, and medical care. Michael initially wanted custody but came to realize that the fight for custody would poison his future relationship with Shani, something he did not want to happen. He agreed that Shani would have sole custody, and Shani agreed that they would continue to parent and make decisions about the children as they had always done.
However, this led to consternation on Michael’s part since Shani opposed a 50/50 parenting time split. He saw this as an inconsistency which created doubt about how decision making would work going forward. The couple was at an impasse.
Shani was concerned about child-care costs for the younger child once she started working.
The couple eventually decided that a more traditional parenting time split, every other weekend to dad, and holidays split was in the best interest of the kids because it reduced the amount of times they would need to transfer from house to house. Usually, with children this age, during the summers, dad would get two weeks of uninterrupted parenting time. However, Shani agreed to three two weeks periods as long as they did not run consecutively.
Finally, the parties agreed that since Michael was taking the debt, he would keep his retirement savings.
One last note, since the amount of income Shani would earn, and the child-care costs, would impact how much child support Michael would pay, the parties agreed to wait one month to allow Shani to get these things in order and to solidify a work schedule. We agreed to wait one month to file the judgment of dissolution with the court. Shani agreed to produce paystubs and receipts and after these were produced a new child support calculation would be run and included with the judgment. Finally, they agreed to revisit the Child Support Calculation once the younger child started school in a year and to make adjustments between each other.