High Earner’s Expenses & Lifestyle Must be Considered in Calculating Child Support

A California Court of Appeals has ruled that a Trial Court was wrong by failing to list its reasons for deviating from guideline in making child support order of less than guideline for the child of an extraordinarily high earner and by relying on Mother and Childs expenses and lifestyle instead of the high earners expenses and lifestyle. In the case of Y.R. v. A.F., Father and Mother had a brief affair during which Mother discovered that she was pregnant with Fathers child. Mother gave birth to their daughter in July of 2006. Father, a successful director with a wife and three kids, paid some of Mother and Childs expenses and gave Mother $5,000 per month. Mother, a hair stylist, did not seek a formal support order until October of 2014. In her petition, Mother sought an order establishing Fathers paternity, and requiring Father to pay Childs health insurance, uninsured health care expenses, and half of Childs extracurricular activities.

After filing her petition, Mother sought documents regarding Fathers income and expenses, lifestyle, and payments for other expenses of his children. In response, Father stated that he was an extraordinarily high income earner, per California Family Code Section 4057, and could pay any child support order commensurate with Childs reasonable needs. Instead of responding to Mothers discovery requests, Father provided a declaration, listing his salary at $2.2 million per year or $190,000 per month. Mother disputed that Father was such a high income earner, but did not seek further responses. In her declaration, Mother described living in a three-bedroom, two-bath apartment in Santa Monica, which was cramped because her other two children also lived there. Mother asserted that she should be able to have a four-bedroom condo in the same area at a monthly rental of between $6,000 and $15,000 per month. She also asserted that Child should have a nanny, tutoring, take various lessons, and go to camp. She reported income of $1,833 per month and expenses of more than $6,000.

In response, Father reported an annual salary of a little more than $2 million, monthly rent of $20,000, more than $3,000 per month each for various living expenses, $31,000 per month for other expenses and so on. Father submitted a DissoMaster report, calculating guideline support for Father at $11,840 per month. Father argued that ordering that amount would exceed Mother and Childs stated expenses and urged Trial Court to order less than guideline. Father did not discuss his lifestyle, or calculate reasonable support based on his monthly income and expenses. Mother disputed Fathers income and her accounting expert calculated Fathers average income at $336,000 per month, for a guideline support order of $25,000 per month.

After a hearing, Trial Court found that Father was an extraordinarily high wage earner, but his income and expense report was unsubstantiated. Focusing on Mothers income and expenses, Trial Court found that guideline support would exceed Childs needs. Trial Court then ordered Father to pay Childs school tuition, 75% of her extracurricular activities and school expenses, all of Childs health insurance, and 90% of Childs uncovered medical expenses. It ordered him to pay child support of $8,500 per month as a reasonable amount to allow Child to live at an appropriate standard. When Mothers attorney objected that Mother and Childs past expenses were not commensurate with Childs current needs, Trial Court disagreed, saying that Mother had the burden of showing that Childs reasonable needs would not be met by the order. Trial Court final order contained the income and expense figures on which it had relied, but did not explain its reasons for deviating from guideline or state why the award was in Childs best interests. Mother appealed, and now California Court of Appeals has reversed and remanded the case back to Trial Court with directions.

The Appellate Court has ruled that (1) Trial Court failed to comply with statutory requirements for deviating from guideline; (2) as parent invoking high earner exception, Father had the burden of showing that guideline child support would be unjust or inappropriate; and (3) Childs needs should not have been determined by Mothers income and expenses, but by Fathers disposable income and standard of living (regardless of whether it benefits Mothers other children). The Appellate Court reverses and remands the case back to Trial Court to assess whether $25,000 per month guideline support order would exceed Childs needs and if so, to state in writing or on the record the reasons why the child support order should differ from guideline and is consistent with Childs best interests.

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