When the Rich Split its sky's the limit for child support

When the Rich Split its sky's the limit for child support

by James Peters, Esq., December 2009

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Raising children today is expensive. Ask any number of parents. You are likely to hear the same thing: costs for everything from clothing to education seem to endlessly rise. How much money does it take to raise a child today? $500 a month? $1,000 a month? Or maybe more? Definitely more according to the Westchester, NY judge who handled Sean "P. Diddy" Combs' case. The judge determined $35,000 a month in child support is a reasonable sum for the star to pay the mother of his first child. Combs' attorney has complained the case is less about child support than "adult support."

When parents split, one of the most contentious elements of the divorce is bound to be the care of the children. States have specific guidelines for determining child support amounts. The child support number crunching is typically based on factors like the net income of the parents, percentage of time the children spends with each parent, etc.

Yet, in the world of the rich and famous, requests for monthly child support often figure in the tens of thousands of dollars. But just how does one justify such "needs" in splits from wealthy spouses? Court records provide some interesting insight into the extravagant lifestyles of the children involved.

Take, for example, the case of Kirstie Alley and Parker Stevenson. Stevenson proclaimed he and Alley provided their children with "bountiful material possessions" throughout their marriage. Among the examples was a life size baby giraffe rocking horse costing $10,000 - only slightly more than your average toy. Along with the possessions came events of equal lavishness. Parker detailed annual Halloween parties complete with marching bands, cavalrymen and petting zoos that cost approximately $20,000-25,000. During Christmas festivities, the couple would fly in "The Santa Claus to the Stars" and spend $30,000-40,000 just on Christmas gifts. Considering this level of luxury, it isn't the least bit surprising that a parent might request a higher numbers than in the more typical case.

Countless court requests over the last decade suggest Alley and Stevenson's story is a norm for wealthy couples. In 1995, Jim Carey's ex-wife Melissa requested an increase in child support payments from the $10,000 a month Carey had been ordered to pay. The former Ms. Carey saw the sum as insufficient to cover new expenses as their daughter grew older. Justification for the higher monthly price tag came from the need for horseback riding lessons, personal trainers, headshots, and a projected $200,000 pilates and music practice studio.

To say the least, the above expenses might seem over-inflated to the average parent. However, these figures pale next to the requests of Lionel Ritchie's ex-wife. Richie's child-related expenses included annual boarding school fees of $125,000, a monthly clothing expenditure of $750-$1,000 for each of her children, and at least $1,000 a month in gifts for other children's birthday parties. Even the friends of such children are not to be left wanting after these couples split. While Ms. Ritchie's numbers are certainly impressive, her children seem underprivileged in comparison to those of Lisa Kerkorian, ex-wife of perennial Forbes lister Kirk Kerkorian. Lisa provided a Los Angeles judge with child rearing costs of an unprecedented $323,000 a month. She claimed $3,386 a month for "French/ballet/tennis/piano/riding" lessons, a cash-on-hand estimate of $5,000 a month and $1,000 a month for toys/videos/books.

While the numbers above may seem absurd, child support is heavily based on the financial resources of the parents. In cases like those above, there is often a large income gap between the two parents. Courts typically consider the standard of living the child would have enjoyed if the marriage had continued. With that in mind, claims by ex spouses for continuing Junior's French lessons in Paris or throwing birthday parties with $10,000 price tags aren't so crazy.

After all, it wouldn't be fair to deprive the child of a particular lifestyle just because mommy and daddy can't get along. Ultimately, most of us don't have to worry about shelling out $35,000 a month in child support. And if we are in the position to pay that kind of money, sympathy may not come fast from the public.