Feeling Ignored? A MA Child Support Mediation Shows Why You Get Bewildered When Solutions to Family Problems Are Ignored…And What To Do About It!

ma child support negotiation is confusingEver offer a solution to a problem that you know will help the other person?

A brilliant, selfless, creative, and irrefutable solution?

Like this one I heard while mediating child support payments:

“I really won’t care if you reduce the child support.”

How many parents paying child support would LOVE to be told that by their co-parent?

If you’re thinking all of them you would be thinking what I was thinking during a recent parenting mediation in Massachusetts.

The father was struggling financially. Well-educated and talented he had been down on his luck.

For a year.

He was used to making six figures and only brought in $35,000 this last year. He was re-directing all his income from his recent contracting gig to her and was leaving enough for himself only to pay bills and eat. He even turned off cable.

He was behind in child support payments by thousands of dollars.

And he was petrified the judge would lock him up the next time they were in court.

It was with this context the wife suggested what seemed like the perfect solution.

He should file for a reduction, she suggested. She cared less about the amount of support. She just wanted reliable support.

Mediating a Dream MA Child Support Proposal

He ignored the suggestion.

Then he gave a circular explanation for why lowering support would not help him if he came in to money in a few months (which was a possibility).

Of course it would help, explained his co-parent. Even if the amount was increased later he would still pay less in the interim.

Still, he danced around the issue.

I finally interjected and said, “you told us that you’re scared you might get arrested, that despite your best efforts you are having trouble finding a better job, and that you can’t pay your arrears. She is encouraging you to file for a reduction. Can you help us understand why you don’t seem interested in her proposal?”

He looked right at me as his eyes welled up.

“Ben, it keeps me up at night that I can’t pay my child support. That I can’t provide for my child. That I can’t contribute to his basic needs like clothing, food and activities. It kills me.”

“I’m not lowering my child support.”

You’re Not?

Proud. Dutiful. Responsible. These are the values driving his reaction.

Her suggestion made sense on the surface. But it missed the mark in one important way. It had absolutely nothing to do with what was important to him. It was a solution based exclusively on her desire for predictable payments.

Who would have guessed?

Ninety-nine out of a 100 times the parent would jump on the chance to lower payments. This was that 1 out of a 100.

Steps to Improve Family Problem Solving

It can be infuriating when your spouse, parent or child outright rejects what seems to you a logical and obvious solution to an important problem.

You try to convince the other why they should listen to you. They argue back.

And nothing gets worked out. Except that the conflict has gotten a whole lot worse.

If you find yourself offering a well-intended and logical suggestion that is rejected there are but a few possible explanations:

1. You didn’t explain it well (unlikely if you’ve already tried more than once)

2. Your spouse, child or parent is being stubborn and unreasonable (unlikely if the problem is also burdening them)

3. Drugs or alcohol are involved (hopefully not — but if so this is NOT the time to try having a rational conversation)

4. Something else is going on

When Something Else is Going On…

1. Take pause

2. Consider that there might be something else going on

3. Check in with the person by letting them know that you understand they don’t like your idea, and that you want to know what about it doesn’t work for them (without sarcasm)

4. If that doesn’t work, drop your suggestion. Wait for a later time when the tensions have lowered. And then go back to step #3 and try to figure out what else is going on.

Curious, Are You?

Curious how it ended with my mediation clients?

They decided to request a 30 day continuance to buy the father more time to figure out his finances (and avoid jail-time for the moment). He outlined how much she should expect to receive each week based on his current job. They decided to work on the parenting schedule so they could report progress to the court. And they scheduled another mediation session for a few weeks out to explore other alternatives.

A perfect solution? No.

A viable temporary solution? Yes.

Why? Because it was relevant to what was important to both of them.

These folks detest one another. If they can do it, so can you.

What is your experience when your solutions to problems get shot down? Comment below!

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About the Author ()

I help families resolve conflict through family mediation and divorce mediation in Massachusetts. My services include mediation for co-parenting disputes, marriage problems, separation and divorce, parents and teenagers, and family conflicts. The goal of my mediator's blog is to help teach or remind readers of helpful communication and conflict resolution techniques that can be used in their relationships. I live in Natick, MA with my wife, son and dog and mediate throughout the Metrowest Boston region. Please note that my name is spelled Ben Stich, not Ben Stitch.

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Comments (5)

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  1. Michael says:

    Interesting case study, Ben.

    As in most ongoing conflicts, there is always something beneath stubborn positions. Emotions are never to be ignored or dismissed if we wish to find the proper path to conflict management or resolution.

    In your case, it is clearly the identity goal the father is struggling with (he obviously wants to stand up and do what he feels is right) and the mother’s interest, on the surface, seems to be security for their son and equally, her peace of mind. Asking inquisitive questions about the “why” and “how” can be so revealing.

    Hopefully both parties, despite their relational pain, were able to feel and show empathy for the other party’s stress and realize despite their relational dysfunction they are still family to their child.

    You realize these people both love their son and the emotional junk creates so much unnecessary pain but learning to manage it, with a professional’s help, should serve them well as individuals and a family.

    • Ben Stich says:

      Interestingly I am unsure if there is much empathy for one another’s perspective. However, they do have a shared interest of staying out of the courts, as they have historically been frequent flyers, and to decrease the level of conflict between them for the sake of their child. Those two threads, and my constant referencing of those shared interests, are keeping them above the fray. Hopefully, over time, they build some trust and can move past old resentments. They are not there yet, which is why it’s a perfect case for mediation!

  2. Michael says:

    Well Ben, even if conflict, it’s nice to know that couple does have common ground, even if it it is mostly rooted in minimizing future court appearances, which does the family emotional dynamic little to no good. If you can help them help themselves in that regard, that to me would be progress and rewarding. People get lost in conflict to where it seems the conflict becomes the natural and default behavior. Your commitment to the process and people will serve them well.

    Have a good week sir.

  3. Halee Burg says:

    Thank you so much for sharing this experience, Ben. How often we find resistance tied to some underlying interest that has not yet been shared, identified or fully explored. I recently had a similar experience in a family mediation, where one family member desired to replace a financial professional who had been working with the family for many years. I was exploring what each participant what they would be looking for in a financial professional and what their performance goals for the financial professional would be. We then discussed whether the current professional met those goals. There was general agreement that the professional was meeting them, and had been meeting them for a long time. Knowing that something else must be going on and familiar with additional relevant history, I said something like, ” So, I’m a little confused and hoping you can help me out here. I want to be sure I understand. You are generally comfortable with the job the financial professional is doing for the family and that he/she is meeting the family’s performance goals. What would you be looking for in someone else? And the response was “Respect.” Let us, as mediators, always keep our mind on the “prize” – the understanding we can glean from what’s important to the parties, their interests!

    • Ben Stich says:

      Great illustration, Halee. It’s so important as mediators — and as family and friends — to set aside assumptions when we can if we truly want to know what is behind someone’s firm position. So glad you contributed to the discussion and hope you do again!

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