In my practice as a Certified Family Law Specialist, I frequently need to do a child support calculation for clients, which is when I have to ask myself, "Cui bono?" For whose advantage is this? And I also have to ask, "To what end? Is the calculation for the client, the other parent, the judge, or opposing counsel? Is the purpose to litigate, angle for position, or communicate and seek resolution?"
Every software program that is certified by the Judicial Council will produce almost exactly the same child support results, so primary differences lie in ease of use, the analysis provided, and the reports they produce. The reports are the most important consideration in my practice, and I'll tell you why.
I am very sensitive to the reports I give my clients because the suitability of material I hand them forms part of the bond and goodwill between us. I want something they can readily understand, something they will see as being considerate of their needs and well worth the cost and effort. I also must keep in mind what the other parent will see and how it will affect communication between the parents.
Of course every client wants to know the bottom line-how much support-but they also want to see numbers they can understand. Even more, they want something clear and convincing to show the other parent; preferably, something that doesn't require a legal consultation to interpret. We are not interested in confounding the other side so much as communicating with them. Above all else, clients want to settle the issue fairly and get it off the table. That's what I want, too.
A report that communicates clearly is invaluable because it helps me switch the parents' focus from how much support must be paid to the more manageable discussion of whether the data entered is correct. If correct, the computer tells the parties what any judge will order if the case is taken to court, so there's little point in taking it there. If a parent claims the data is not correct, it is time to show each other documents to back up the data. A judge would have to see such evidence in any event, so they might as well do it in the comfort of their own homes.
Nearly all of my cases settle out of court; this is my goal and what I believe to be in everyone's best interest. But it's not just my clients I'm talking about-studies show that it is typical for divorcing parties to communicate more with each other than with counsel. This is why I want to put into my client's hands material they can use to communicate, discuss, and work out for themselves what should be done about support.
Of all available professional support programs, the one that comes closest to producing the kinds of reports I want in my practice is CalSupport PRO from Nolo Press Occidental (www.nolotech.com/PRO). It has the added advantage of costing only $150, or 60% less than the others, while providing greater ease of use and a full range of analyses. In a litigation, I might want the more adversarial DissoMaster, assuming I can master all of the tactics and settings embedded within the program. In contrast, CalSupport PRO keeps all options on the surface and reports choices clearly.
Some practitioners might appreciate that CalSupport is also available in a single-user version for only $30 in which each item carries a definition right on the entry screen. Case data files are tiny and can be read by the single-user and PRO versions, so client, counsel and the other parent can work with the data, exchange files by email and bring case variations back to counsel for discussion. This has greatly enhanced the resolution of support issues in my caseload.
It is easy for a lawyer to use legal tools and tactics to find an advantage or stir up a conflict, but most clients don't want that. They understand (and we know) that terms that are fought over and imposed are less likely to be complied with in the future; that lingering resentments compromise parenting; and that it is better to find a fair result that parents agree to than to fight over a few dollars. So the goal of running a child support calculation goes beyond merely informing a client of the bottom line and it is not usually about getting an edge on the other side; it goes to communication with the other parent and settlement without conflict.
Copyright 2004 Anne Lober
Anne Lober is a partner in Sherman, Williams, Lober & Thompson with offices in San Jose, Sacramento, Santa Cruz and Walnut Creek.