Oh, How the Rich Have Fallen

Frederick and Mary Kate Williamson were married in 1989 and separated in 2009. They had three children during their marriage, but at the time of separation, only their son, Hughes, was a minor.

During their marriage the Williamsons lived the high life. Mary Kate never worked, and Frederick worked for his family business: The Los Angeles Times. (Prior to the marriage, Mary Kate had been a retail clerk for about two years.) They lived on Frederick's $120,000 per year salary; $13,000 per year from a trust from his grandmother; and $26,000 a year from Frederick's parents, Norman and Victoria. They lived the high life. Their children went to private schools paid for by Norman and Victoria. They owned luxury cars, travelled throughout the world, belonged to exclusive private clubs, shopped at high-end stores, and lived in mansions with housekeeping staffs. Their expenses were $40,000 to $50,000.00 per month, and when they could not pay their bills, Norman and Victoria would give them additional funds. Sometime around 2005, Frederick quit his job and the family moved to Montecito, a rich enclave near Santa Barbara, where he spent his time and more money renovating the home.

When the couple separated in 2009, Mary Kate and the children remained in the family home, and Frederick temporarily moved into a one bedroom apartment, and then in to one of his parents' mansions rent-free. He then began working for a Santa Barbara newspaper with a salary of $60,000 per year. His parents also stopped giving the couple cash gifts.

In their dissolution proceedings, based on Frederick's current salary and stipends, the trial court awarded Mary Kate $2,000 per month in permanent spousal support and $1,200 per month in child support for Hughes. (The permanent spousal support was awarded because of the length of the marriage.) The court also found that Mary Kate would be able to earn about $4,000 per month to support her self with about a year's training. Mary Kate appealed. She thought she should get $29,000 per month in permanent spousal support without working because she was entitled to her married lifestyle, and Norman and Veronica could still give Frederick the money to support it.

The appellate court upheld the trial court, stating that child support is based on a mathematical formula based on the parties' income and the amount of time each party spent with the child; thus finding Hughes's child support fair. Spousal support, however, is based on the married life styles of the parties, but only if the supporting spouse (Frederick) had the ability to pay to continue that lifestyle and whether the spouse to be supported is able to support her/himself. The trial court determined Frederick and Mary Kate lived above their financial means only because of gifts from Norman and Veronica. The court could not order Norman and Veronica to continue giving gifts, so the court could not use that money as Frederick's income.

Whether gift can be used in determining support, can be very technical and should be requested by a qualified family law attorney.

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