Practice Tip:
Am I a Bad Divorce Mediator ?
By Jennifer H. Keaton

In November 2014, the Georgia Supreme Court issued two rulings that dealt with child support deviations. Both cases are linked here ( ) and here ( ). To oversimplify the cases’ rulings, the Supreme Court reiterated that judges must dot every “i” and cross every “t” if a deviation – upwards or downwards – from the State’s “presumptive” amount of child support set forth in the State’s guidelines is to occur.

The rulings don’t seem to be very complex. The decisions cite Georgia statutes (O.C.G.A. § 19-6-15 (c) (2) (E) and O.C.G.A. 19-6-15(i)(1)(B)) and essentially say, “Hey, if you’re going to approve a deviation from the child support guidelines’ amounts, you better back it up in writing that states that the deviation is in the best interests of the children.” And, that writing better include factual findings about:

* Why the presumptive amount of child support would be unjust or inappropriate considering the relative ability of each parent to provide support; or
* How the best interests of the children would be served by a deviation.

So, am I a Bad Divorce Mediator if I don’t ask these questions of divorcing parents who intend to deviate from the presumptive amount of child support? Am I “practicing law” if I bring them up? Do I abandon my neutrality as a mediator if I bring them up?

Fortunately, deviations from the child support guidelines’ amounts are contemplated with Schedule E of the child support worksheets. In fact, the subsections of Schedule E include three questions with large boxes to answer them:

* Would the presumptive amount be unjust or inappropriate? Explain.
* Would deviation serve the best interests of the children for whom support is being determined? Explain.
* Would deviation seriously impair the ability of the CUSTODIAL Parent or NONPARENT Custodian to maintain minimally adequate housing, food and clothing for the children being supported by the order and to provide other basic necessities? Explain.

So, far from compromising my neutrality or practicing law, helping parties to down these factual items as part of a divorce agreement during a mediation is “filling in ALL of the blanks” in the child support worksheets. Thus, a Good Divorce Mediator should utilize the ready-made child support worksheets with a sharp eye towards helping divorcing parents to complete the entirety of the sheets when they are seeking a deviation. It just might save your parties a return trip to court and reduce the docket of appeals.

Jennifer H. Keaton, Esq., is an attorney and registered domestic relations mediator. She has been mediating since 2002, and she has mediated hundreds of divorces and modification cases.

Phone: 470-252-3305 E-mail:



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