When Higher Income Means Less Child Support

In 2005, F and M had an affair that resulted in their daughter, Z. F is a married movie producer and director and M is a part time hair stylist. F has three children with his wife, and M has two other children from past relationships. For the first eight years of Z’s life, F provided M with about $5,000 per month for Z’s care. M had sole custody of Z, and F had no contact with Z whatsoever.

However, in 2014, M filed a petition with the court to increase Z’s support so that Z’s lifestyle would be similar to F’s other children. Both F and M provided the court with their Income and Expense Declaration forms. These documents showed that F earned about $190,000 per month and M earned about $1900 per month. Based on those documents, the DissoMaster program determined Z’s child support at $11,840 per month. Based on M’s accounting of F’s tax documents, F earned over $300,000 per month and child support should be $25,325 per month.

The DissoMaster is a privately developed computer program used to calculate guideline child support under the algebraic formula required by Family Code section 4055. It includes the wages of each parents, amount of time each parent spends with the child, and other factors affecting the costs of raising a child. The court must use the determination of the DissoMaster, unless the amount exceeds the best interest of the child, and why it does so. The court must also state on the record the reason for its findings.

F argued for lower child support, because he is an extraordinarily high wage earner under Family Code section 4057, and to provide more than $7000 per month would be superfluous, based on M and Z’s current lifestyle.

The trial court did not state that F is an extraordinarily high wage earner, but determined that he should pay: “$8,500 per month plus the payment of the child’s medical insurance, 90% of the child’s uncovered medical costs, 75% of the child’s extra-curricular activities, and 100% of the child’s private school tuition at a [school] comparable to those that [F’s] other children attend.”

M appealed stating that the court did not use proper guidelines to determine child support.

The Appellate Court agreed with M and sent the case back to the trial court to state on the record why it believed the guideline amount exceeded the child’s needs and why the deviation is in the child’s best interests. Further, the trial court was ordered to base Z’s support on how F’s other children lived, not on how Z and M currently lived.

Categories: Child Support, Family Law
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