Halle Berry’s last breakup came with a price tag: $16,000 a month for the next 13 years.
On May 30, a Los Angeles court ordered that the Academy Award-winning actress must pay $16,000 a month in child support to her ex-boyfriend, Gabriel Aubry, to support their 6-year-old daughter, Nahla, until she turns 19 or graduates from high school. This amounts to $192,000 a year and almost $2.5 million of nontaxable income over Nahla’s childhood (not including another $115,000 Halle must pay retroactively, plus $300,000 to cover Aubry’s legal fees).
The pricey child support settlement raises the question: Does a 6-year-old really require $16,000 a month?
In California, child support is calculated using a uniform statewide guideline formula that considers both parents’ income, if one parent makes more money than the other, the amount of time each parent spends with the child, and a variety of other related factors. The guideline formula is presumed to be correct and courts should only depart from the guideline in rare circumstances. Under Family Code section 4057(b)(3), one of these circumstances is when “the parent being ordered to pay child support has an extraordinarily high income and the amount determined under the formula would exceed the needs of the children.”
Determining what exceeds a child’s needs is subjective, can be tricky, and involves somewhat circular reasoning. The ability of support must be suitable to the child’s circumstances and can depend on whether the parent is merely wealthy, such as a senior engineer at Google making $300,000 per year, or extremely wealthy, such as Halle Berry, who has a net worth of $70 million and earns approximately $16 million per year. For example, in Marriage of Chandler, based on the Husband’s monthly income of $117,000, the trial court reduced the guideline amount of $9,000 to $3,000 to reflect the child’s reasonable needs. The appellate court then reversed, finding that reducing support to one-third of the guideline was erroneous, and that $3,000 would not come close to providing the child with the lifestyle she was used to.
In Marriage of Bonds, which involved the baseball player Barry Bonds, the trial court awarded his ex-wife $20,000 per month in child support. Bond’s pre-tax salary was $8 million per year and the guideline child support would have been $67,000 per month. His ex-wife appealed, claiming that $20,000 only covered “bare necessities.” The appellate court dismissed ex-wife’s argument, stating that the trial court has discretion to order whatever amount it decides will meet the reasonable needs of the children, consistent with the basic principles behind child support.
The court in Marriage of Catalano noted that a child is an innocent victim of a divorce, with no choice in the breakup, but with reason to expect that both parents will continue to provide for him or her in whatever manner they can. Indeed, the Legislature has expressly provided that children should share the same standard of living as both parents, and child support may be used “appropriately” to improve the standard of living in the custodial household to “improve the lives of the children.” Thus, the parent receiving child support from a high-income earner may derive some personal benefit from the extra cash. With Halle forking out $16,000 a month, Nahla will likely continue to live a comfortable life while Gabriel benefits personally from some extra cash, as well.
If you are a high-income earner and are concerned about making excessive child support payments, please contact our California Certified Family Law Specialists. Our attorneys have decades of experience handling complex family law matters and offer a free consultation.
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