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.