When California parents of young children divorce, the non-custodial parent will likely be required to pay child support. How much is paid, how often it is paid and how long the support lasts are all elements of a child support plan that must be decided. This decision may be reached by parents negotiating with the help of their attorneys, by alternative dispute resolution, or in court.

In the first two examples, the aim is usually to produce a written agreement that will be taken to a judge for approval. A judge will usually approve a child support agreement that follows state guidelines and seems fairly negotiated. The agreement then becomes legally binding, and this means that parents who do not abide by it might face legal repercussions.

Parents who negotiate in a more informal manner might participate directly in the process or they may leave the process up to their respective attorneys. Mediation, collaborative divorce and arbitration are all alternate dispute resolution processes that might be used although arbitration is not usually used in family law situations. The first two processes are less adversarial and more focused on compromise than litigation.

Parents may decide on joint physical custody, and if this is the case, neither may owe child support. Another option may be for one parent to have primary custody but for the other parent to have ample visitation time. Some research supports the idea that a child benefits from having substantial time with each parent, so unless there are extenuating circumstances such as domestic violence or substance abuse, joint custody or generous visitation time may be in the best interests of the child.