This new Advisor to Client series helps clients learn about the elements of financial planning through the examples of their favourite fictional characters.
Subject: Dr. Mindy Lahiri, The Mindy Project
- Custody and child support (this article)
- Estate planning (Part 2)
- Cash flow and education savings (Part 3)
Premiere: Thursdays at 8ET/PT starting October 27 on City.
Scenario: New York gynecologist Mindy Lahiri (created and played by Mindy Kaling) passes several major milestones during the fifth season of The Mindy Project. She gives birth to a son, Leo, but splits up with her fiancé and colleague Danny after it’s clear they’re incompatible parents. She also opens a fertility clinic with another doctor from the practice, which requires a great deal of Mindy’s time and money — mainly because she’s a notoriously poor budgeter.
With Leo’s birth, Mindy realizes she’s neglected her finances and hands a box of paperwork over to a friend in the financial business. To her relief, she learns she’s living within her means.
Concern: As a single mother, what plans should Mindy have in place to protect and provide for Leo in case she gets sick or dies?
In this series, we assume Canadian tax and estate laws apply to our fictional clients.
Custody and child support
Before their split, Mindy and Danny were in a common-law relationship and raising Leo without a parenting agreement. Anita Kain, a founding partner at Kain and Ball Family Law in Mississauga, Ont., says if Mindy came to her for help, she would create a formal document for Mindy and Danny to sign, outlining how Leo would be raised.
“There’s usually two components that we look at: decision making; and parenting time, or scheduling,” Kain explains. “It is now more common for us to not talk about ‘custody’ and ‘access,’ because they tend to be very inflammatory words. [Instead,] we talk more about decision making.”
The parenting document can contain whatever Mindy and Danny want — as long as both agree. Currently in the show, Mindy and Danny are on good terms; but with Danny’s temper and Mindy’s stubbornness, that may not always be the case.
Sandra Jackson, an associate family lawyer at Torkin Manes in Toronto, says if the two parties don’t agree, Mindy and Danny could hire a mediator. That person would help them come to a non-binding resolution. “[It] would be a really effective way of resolving issues, and much more cost-effective than going to court.”
Jackson recommends a parenting mediator who is also a mental health professional.
In the signed agreement, Kain says one of the considerations is child support. “If [Leo] resides with [Mindy] more than 60% of the time, she is entitled to child support based on Danny’s income, regardless of what her income is.”
A New York doctor’s average income is US$252,000. With this assumption, Kain says Danny would owe Mindy approximately $2,000 a month. In addition to that base amount, he would also owe Mindy his proportionate share of extraordinary expenses like private school, expensive extracurricular sports, and childcare costs. Whichever spouse earns more pays more.
As well, Danny could potentially owe Mindy spousal support, despite the fact that they never married. “When you cohabit with somebody in a relationship either [for longer than] three years or you have a child with that person, spousal support obligations arise,” says Kain. “Whether it’s appropriate or not for Mindy to claim spousal support in this situation depends on a number of factors.”
The paramount factor is whether being Leo’s primary parent will harm Mindy’s future earnings. “If you have two people in equivalent careers, they shouldn’t have to pay each other spousal support. But even though it starts out that way, having children together and assuming the more ‘traditional’ role can really have an impact on her future earning abilities.” In the show, Danny forced Mindy to stay home and raise Leo while he worked.
Tune in to Advisor to Client tomorrow to learn what Mindy should do about her estate.