In Age of Dual Incomes, Alimony Payers Prod States to Update Laws

IStock_000000532394XSmallpayingbillsMIAMI — In the waning days of this year’s legislative session, Florida lawmakers and advocacy groups are pushing to overhaul the state’s alimony law in a bid to better reflect today’s marriages and make the system less burdensome for the alimony payer. 

Florida joins a grass-roots movement in a growing number of states that seeks to rewrite alimony laws by curbing lifelong alimony and alleviating the financial distress that some payers — still mostly men — say they face. The activists say the laws in several states, including Florida, unfairly favor women and do not take into account the fact that a majority of women work and nearly a third have college degrees.

Read more in New York Times

More on Spousal Support on our website.

For more information visist our Los Angeles divorce attorney website or our LA Divorce blog


The importance of accurate expense information

Here is a great post from Mark Chinn's Family Law site: 


Every divorce case is a financial planning negotiation and requires the development of detailed budget, asset and liability information.  Assets and liabilities are relatively easy to pin down with documents and appraisals.  Accurate budget information is another thing altogether.

Clients are usually told to sit down with their checks and credit cards and average the expenses in different categories over the past 12 months.  Usually, clients short cut their work and use educated guesses.  However, this is a mistake. The budget of each party is a real key in the negotiation or trial.  It plays a key role in alimony and child support. It also plays a key role in determining whether a settlement is adequate.

Budget software is an absolute must when it comes to calculating budgets.  The most common and very inexpensive software for this purpose is Quicken.  Checks and other expenses can be easily inputted into the program, and detailed and accurate reports generated even by novices in accounting or computers.

I recently attended a mediation where the woman had nearly doubled her actual budget on her financial statement.  My client had entered all of his financial information into Quicken for years.  Suffice it to say, the Quicken documentation carried the day on the actual budget for negotiation purposes.  It saved a lot of negotiation time and probably gave the other side comfort that the numbers we were offering would suffice for her needs.

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Alimony in Massachusetts Gets Overhaul, With Limits

This from the New York Times (for full article) Gov. Deval Patrick on Monday signed into law new limits on alimony in Massachusetts, sharply curbing lifetime alimony payments in divorce cases and making a series of other changes to a system that critics considered outdated. Linda Lea Viken, president of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, said the law represented an about-face that could reverberate across the country. Most states, she said, do not have such specific guidelines for determining the length of alimony. “They’ve gone from the extreme of having it set in permanency to now being specific about when it terminates,” Ms. Viken said of Massachusetts. More details can be found from http://www.massalimonyreform.org/


If I have full custody do I still have to pay child support? A case of life imitating art.

If you are a successful actor earning between $475,000 to $790,000 per month and your wife earns nothing the answer is yes. That is the opinion of the California Court of Appeal in the case of actor Jon Cryer who plays Alan on Two and a Half Men. The couple married in 2000 ands have a son.  They divorced in 2004.  In 2009 the son was taken from Cryer's wife, Sara by child protective services, and placed with Jon.  Sara's only income was the child support she received from Jon.  Jon took Sarah to court to have his child support reduced.  In response Sarah argued that without child support from Jon she would be destitute. An important fact the Court considered was that Cryer had gained custody in a dependency proceeding the goal which is eventual reunification. The Court stated:

The amount of child support normally payable is calculated based on a complicated algebraic formula found at Family Code section 4055.1Although this formula is referred to as the statewide uniform “guideline” (§ 4055), “guideline” is a misleading term. (In re Marriage of Hubner(2001) 94 Cal.App.4th 175, 183.) The formula support amount is “presumptively correct” in all cases (see §§ 4057, subd. (a), 4053, subd. (k)), but “may be rebutted by admissible evidence showing that application of the formula would be unjust or inappropriate in the particular case, consistent with the principles set forth in Section 4053 . . . .” (§ 4055, subd. (b).)

Section 4053 sets forth a number of principles, foremost among them being the protection of the child’s best interest: “The guideline seeks to place the interests of children as the state’s top priority.” (§ 4053, subd. (e).) Among other principles, section 4053 also provides, “ (a) [a] parent’s first and principal obligation is to support his or her minor children according to the parent’s circumstances and station in life”; “(d) [e]ach parent should pay for the support of the children according to his or her ability”; and “(f) [c]hildren should share in the standard of living of both parents. Child support may therefore appropriately improve the standard of living of the custodial household to improve the lives of the children.” In light of these principles, departure from the standard child support formula may be appropriate when application of the formula “would be unjust or inappropriate due to special circumstances in the particular case” (§ 4057, subd. (b)(5)), so long as the variance is consistent with section 4053.

At the time of the initial hearing on the requested modification, Jon was paying Sarah $10,000 per month for child support. In bringing his order to show cause, Jon argued that there had been a material change in circumstances due to the dependency proceedings, which caused his time share to increase dramatically. A child support order may be modified when there has been a material change of circumstances. (In re Marriage of Williams (2007) 150 Cal.App.4th 1221, 1234.)

The trial court (at least implicitly) acknowledged there was a change in circumstances. As noted in the court’s statement of decision, Sarah’s time share had decreased from 65 percent to 4 percent.

Jon was successful in persuading the trial court to modify child support, but he takes issue with the amount of the modification. As required by section 4056, subdivision (a), the trial court’s statement of decision included the amount of support that would have been ordered under the guideline formula: $1,141 per month, payable from Jon to Sarah. This comparatively low amount was largely the result of Sarah’s then 4 percent time share. The court departed from this guideline amount, finding that it would be “unjust and inappropriate” under the special circumstances of the case to modify Jon’s obligations to such an extent, and instead ordered a reduction from $10,000 to $8,000.

We find that the trial court’s decision was well-reasoned and consistent with the principles of section 4053, especially the principle of protecting child’s best interest. Jon is correct that the modification was unusual. So far as we are able to determine, no published California case has examined the propriety of an order giving above-guideline child support to a parent with a minimal time share. In many cases, such an order would be improper. But, as noted above, this was not a typical case.

The “special circumstances” exception of section 4057, subdivision (b)(5) gives the trial court “considerable discretion to approach unique cases on an ad hoc basis.” (County of Lake v. Antoni (1993) 18 Cal.App.4th 1102, 1106; see also In re Marriage of Fini (1994) 26 Cal.App.4th 1033, 1043 [“the court, in child support cases, is not just supposed to punch numbers into a computer and award the parties the computer’s result without considering circumstances in a particular case which would make that order unjust or inequitable”].) The trial court has “broad discretion” to determine when special circumstances apply. (In re Marriage of de Guigne(2002) 97 Cal.App.4th 1353, 1361.)

This was a unique case that presented special circumstances, particularly when viewed from the trial court’s perspective in late 2009. Prior to initiation of the dependency matter, child spent most of his time with Sarah. At the time of the November hearing, Sarah’s custody and visitation rights were in the control of the dependency court and DCFS, and were subject to potentially sudden change. “The parent-child relationship and its attendant duty of support do not end when a child is declared a dependent of the juvenile court and removed from the parents’ custody. [Citation.] To the contrary, the chief objective of the dependency law is the preservation or reunification of the family whenever possible.” (County of Ventura v. Gonzales (2001) 88 Cal.App.4th 1120, 1122.) An order granting a large decrease of child support could have jeopardized the objective of the dependency action. Substantial evidence supported the conclusion that Sarah would have lost the house in which child had lived much of his life, and would have faced other substantial burdens that likely would have impacted her attempts at reunification. Child’s interest was best served by an order that promoted the objective of reunification, as this one did. . . .

In addition, given the posture of the dependency matter, the trial court did not abuse its discretion by finding that child’s best interest was served by a level of child support that would allow Sarah to make the payments necessary to avoid losing her family home. A “‘child’s need is measured by the parents’ current station in life’ [citations],” and “‘where the child has a wealthy parent, that child is entitled to, and therefore “needs” something more than the bare necessities of life.’ [Citation].” (In re Marriage of Cheriton (2001) 92 Cal.App.4th 269, 293(Cheriton).) There was a benefit to child in ordering this level of support, and the fact that Sarah obviously benefited did not per se invalidate the order. (See In re Marriage of Hubner (1988) 205 Cal.App.3d 660.) Depending on the status of Sarah’s visitation and custody situation, child could stay in her house, a house he was used to and which was commensurate with the high standard of living to which he was accustomed. In light of his father’s substantial income and wealth, child “needed” more than an apartment, which was Sarah’s only likely housing option if child support were decreased to guideline levels. An order that resulted in child’s spending time with his father in an opulent abode and time with his mother in a low-rent apartment would have conflicted with the principles of section 4053.

The Court also upheld teh award of $60,000 in attorney fees to Sara:

In reviewing an attorney fee order, the record must reflect that the trial court considered the factors set forth in sections 2030 and 2032. (Alan S. v. Superior Court (2009) 172 Cal.App.4th 238, 242.) The purpose of section 2030 is to ensure parity. “The idea is that both sides should have the opportunity to retain counsel, not just (as is usually the case) only the party with greater financial strength.” (Id. at p. 251.) As for section 2032, it not only requires that the court consider the financial resources of each party, but also requires a broader analysis of the parties’ relative circumstances. (172 Cal.App.4th at p. 254.) From our review of the record, we are satisfied that the trial court analyzed these issues thoroughly. As noted by the court, the incomes of the parties were highly disparate. The case had been litigated very heavily, and numerous orders to show cause and motions were filed in the relatively short time period since modification was first requested. Jon expended a great deal of money on attorney fees and costs. Without sizable fee awards, Jon likely would have litigated Sarah out of the case, a result contrary to the objectives of sections 2030 and 2032. Based on the circumstances, the fee awards ordered by the court were reasonable.

 To read opinion Download Jon cryer

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Alimony in Massachusetts Gets Overhaul, With Limits

This from the New York Times (for full article) Gov. Deval Patrick on Monday signed into law new limits on alimony in Massachusetts, sharply curbing lifetime alimony payments in divorce cases and making a series of other changes to a system that critics considered outdated. Linda Lea Viken, president of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, said the law represented an about-face that could reverberate across the country. Most states, she said, do not have such specific guidelines for determining the length of alimony. “They’ve gone from the extreme of having it set in permanency to now being specific about when it terminates,” Ms. Viken said of Massachusetts. More details can be found from http://www.massalimonyreform.org/


Divorce And The Special Needs Child

Huffingtonpost.com has an article on divorce and the special needs child:

Divorce is always difficult for the children, but what happens when the parents about to split have a child with special needs? According to the most recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) statistics, the number of children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders has grown to 1 in 110 children today, while another CDC study indicates that 1 in 10 children aged 4 - 17 has been diagnosed with Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Combine these sobering statistics with the ever-rising divorce rates and you have a perfect storm of people navigating the very rocky waters of divorce with the added pressure of needing to effectively co-parent a child with special needs long after their marriage is over.  Read this article.

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EU children to benefit from speedier maintenance payments

Gozo News.com reports- "With an estimated 16 million international couples in the EU and 30 million EU citizens living in non-EU countries, the issue of retrieving child maintenance from abroad will grow. For example, a couple living in France get divorced and the father moves to the United States. But will the child still receive the maintenance payments a French court ordered him to pay?

Under a new Convention signed by the EU, the American authorities would cooperate with those in Europe to make sure the father fulfils his obligations and the child still gets support." Read the article.

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As a Hollywood actor, John David Castellanos is protective of his image. He stays in phenomenal shape and looks much younger than his 50 years.

But he admits to a fact that might be considered unflattering: He receives alimony from his former wife. To be exact, $9,000 a month.

"The law provides" for it, says Mr. Castellanos, who for years starred in the soap opera "The Young and the Restless."

More women are paying alimony, or maintenance checks, to their ex-husbands as they make inroads in the workplace. Jacqueline W. Silbermann, deputy chief administrative judge for matrimonial matters in New York, discusses the trend.

In the nearly 30 years since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against gender discrimination in alimony, few male beneficiaries have stepped forward to talk about it. Those who did typically went by pseudonyms or the golden rule of 12-step recovery: first names only.

Little wonder, considering the attention that has come to some former husbands of alimony-paying celebrities. "Why the courts don't tell a husband, who has been living off his wife, to go out and get a job is beyond my comprehension," Joan Lunden, the television personality, said in 1992 when a court ordered her to pay her ex-husband $18,000 a month.

But today's men are shaking off the stigma of being supported by their ex-wives. Several agreed to talk on the record for this article, in part because they say the popular image of the male alimony recipient is unfair: He's not always a slacker.

Mr. Castellanos says he has acted in or produced five movies since the breakup of his marriage, including a couple of projects that he says are nearing completion. If any of these projects strike gold, he says he would gladly forgo alimony. Even Ms. Lunden has had a change of heart. Through a former publicist, she now says of her 1992 comment: "That was a statement made in haste many years ago. I regret having said it."

[John Castellanos]

Divorce experts say that fewer and fewer men are rejecting outright any talk of seeking alimony. The percentage of alimony recipients who are male rose to 3.6% during the five years ending in 2006, up from 2.4%, in the previous five-year period, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

That percentage is likely to rise as more and more marriages feature a primary earner who is female. In 2005 (the latest year for which data are available), wives outearned their husbands in 33% of all families, up from 28.2% a decade earlier.

Alimony -- a distinctly different category from child support -- is the money that higher-earning spouses hand to their lower-earning counterparts following the end of their marriage. Often it is court-ordered, years in duration and based on big discrepancies in spousal incomes.

Classic Reasons

Today, men in growing numbers are receiving alimony for the classic reasons that women traditionally did. A common argument is that they sacrificed their careers for the sake of their wives'.

"If it was not for the joint decision to support Marjorie's career advancement to the detriment of mine, I would be making considerably more money than I am currently," Christopher Bowen argued in a 2005 filing in Los Angeles Superior Court.

At the time of that request, Mr. Bowen was a Wachovia Securities executive receiving about $550,000 in annual pay, according to the court documents. But his wife, Marjorie Bowen, was expected in 2005 to earn $1.5 million as an executive at investment-banking boutique Houlihan Lokey Howard & Zukin, according to the court documents.

Mr. Bowen argued in the filing that when the couple moved back to Los Angeles because of her career opportunities, he took a cut in pay. "Based on my salary alone, I cannot maintain the marital standard of living," Mr. Bowen wrote in a petition filed in the Los Angeles court in August 2005.

[Joe Garnick]

Male alimony seekers are also touting sacrifices made on behalf of children. In the marriage of Joe and Diane Garnick, she logged 12-hour days as a global equity derivatives strategist for Merrill Lynch, earning several times what Mr. Garnick did as a top-performing toilet salesman. So in 2001, he quit that job to focus on raising their two girls, keeping the house clean and doing the shopping.

Following his 2002 divorce, he received alimony of $50,000 a year for four years from Ms. Garnick, now an investment strategist at Invesco Ltd.

As a stay-at-home dad, Mr. Garnick notes that he missed out on career opportunities that would have boosted his earning potential, particularly those involving travel. "I couldn't [travel] while I had a kid," Mr. Garnick says.

Mr. Garnick used the alimony to earn a mathematics degree from a community college. But he has returned to his old job selling toilets, where he earns only half what he did before quitting. "Society thinks that just because you are a man you can pick up a career after you have dropped it for 10 years and jump right back," he says. "That's just not the case."

Still, relatives of his former wife continue referring to Mr. Garnick as a "deadbeat," he says. And Ms. Garnick herself says, "In some instances, alimony has become akin to a social-welfare program provided by working women to their ex-husbands."

[Diane Garnick]

Some feminists say cases such as Mr. Garnick's show progress of a sort. "We can't assert rights for women and say that men aren't entitled to the same rights," says the famous feminist lawyer, Gloria Allred.

But the women who have to pay it are sounding a different chord. "I feel financially raped," says Rhonda Friedman, the former wife of Mr. Castellanos. So distasteful are the monthly payments she makes to him that after filling out the check she used to spit on it. Especially galling, she says, is that she was required to pay a substantial portion of the legal fees he racked up while securing a lucrative divorce agreement.

To be sure, some men don't want alimony, viewing it as an embarrassment. Others are just as high-powered as their wives. Yahoo President Susan Decker and her soon-to-be ex-husband have taken alimony off the table, according to court records. Meanwhile, Sara Lee Chief Executive Brenda Barnes is paying no alimony to her ex-husband, a former PepsiCo Inc. executive who now manages his own money. Until their youngest child recently turned 18, Ms. Barnes, who earned a total of $8.7 million in fiscal 2007, was receiving child-support payments from her former husband, according to court records.

[Bringing It Home]

Other men have learned that alimony is a powerful negotiating tactic, especially when their estranged wives clearly want to sever all ties. "For some people, it is truly offensive to write out a check each month to a spouse for support," says Sue Moss, a divorce lawyer at Chemtob Moss Forman & Talbert LLP in New York. "In those instances, if you can offer a financial package that is essentially the same as if maintenance was being paid, it is the preferable alternative."

Indeed, the increasingly common practice of trading alimony for a fatter slice of marital assets helps explain why the overall number of people reporting alimony income fell 17% during the decade ended in 2006, to a total of fewer than 400,000, the Census Bureau says.

In the case of Wachovia's Mr. Bowen, he ultimately waived his rights to spousal support. But the resulting settlement -- which neither party will publicly discuss -- suggests that Mr. Bowen received a generous division of assets. In addition to half of his wife's substantial private-equity investments, Mr. Bowen received a home in Manhattan Beach, Calif., a parcel in Utah and some properties in Brooklyn, N.Y.

Due Payback

Soap star Mr. Castellanos bluntly says he deserves alimony for the same reason that his former wife, Ms. Friedman, says he doesn't: He earned more than she did during six of the nine years they were married. Only after losing his regular role on "The Young and the Restless," and only after his wife received several promotions, did she start earning more than he. For years, his big paychecks financed their lavish lifestyle, and now he is due some payback, he says.

Invaluable Advice

To Ms. Friedman, that financial history fails to support the argument that she should send thousands a month to her ex-husband, with whom she had no children. "I don't understand why someone becomes your financial responsibility just because you married them," says Ms. Friedman, who earns about $500,000 a year as the supervising producer of the soap opera "The Bold and the Beautiful."

Mr. Castellanos also argues that as an artist, he provided his wife with invaluable advice and insight that helped Ms. Friedman rise from production coordinator to producer.

Ms. Friedman hotly denies that he had anything to do with her success.

Even men without marital sacrifices to cite as cause for alimony are coming around to the idea that good fortune is no cause for shame. Women, after all, have been crowing for decades about the financial scalpings they collect monthly from their ex-husbands. So why shouldn't Phillip Upton take pride in his classic "muscle cars"?

A shop foreman at the time of his divorce last year, Mr. Upton says he couldn't have afforded the $20,000-a-year cost of maintaining his 1960s-vintage collection of cars with outsized motors.

But in his divorce settlement, he won alimony payments totaling at least $40,000 a year from his ex-wife, a marketing executive. "Had I not gotten that, I would have lived a different lifestyle," says Mr. Upton. His former wife, Noreen Upton, declined to comment.

Write to Anita Raghavan at anita.raghavan@wsj.com

Corrections & Amplifications

In 2005 (the latest year for which data are available), women outearned their husbands in 25.5% of families where both spouses received income. This article said wives outearned their husbands in 33% of all families; that number referred to families where wives, but not necessarily husbands, received income.

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California Spousal Support

Surge in child support modifications Los Angeles

Family court
Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times

This article from the Los Angeles Times by By Molly Hennessy-Fiske 
May 3, 2009

Doreen and Carlos Mazariego wait for their case to be called at L.A. County’s Central Civil West Courthouse, where they are appealing for lower child support payments for Carlos’ children from a previous marriage.
As unemployment rises, so does the number of cases being reassessed. Collections are up as the state garnishees more unemployment checks, and more from the middle class are seeking the state's help.

California's rising unemployment rate is driving a steep increase in child support cases, as the newly jobless appeal for increases in monthly payments or argue that they can no longer afford the amounts ordered by the court.

In Los Angeles County, about 450 new cases are filed each day, double the amount at this time last year. More than 3,000 calls come in daily -- up 25% -- increasingly from custodial parents asking child support staffers to crack down on deadbeats. The number of parents seeking help with child support modifications has tripled during the last month and a half, with some parents showing up at 5 a.m. to wait in line.

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"Can we handle it? No," said L.A. County Child Support Services Director Steven J. Golightly.

Family court judges and commissioners are calling it the worst avalanche of new cases they have seen in 30 years, many involving laid-off workers who have struggled to find new jobs.

Paradoxically, higher unemployment rates have led to a slight rise in the amount of child support collected this fiscal year, in part because the state can easily garnishee unemployment checks.

As child support money taken out of payroll checks dropped by more than $20 million through the end of February, compared with the same period a year ago, money withheld from unemployment checks nearly doubled, rising to $64 million from $34 million.

Parents who once hired lawyers or handled child support privately are now going to courts or child support services for help, according to staff members.

"I have never seen the situation as bad as it is now," said Christine Reiser-Juick, lead attorney at the state-run Office of the Family Law Facilitator in Los Angeles County Superior Court's Central Civil West Courthouse, which helps parents who cannot afford to hire attorneys.

Reiser-Juick, a 10-year veteran of the system, said her staff can assist about 150 people a day and regularly have to turn away an additional 60 to 80. Many of the people they see are newly unable to afford their payments or to provide their children with health insurance, she said.

It appears to be a national trend. The American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers in late March reported a 39% increase nationwide in the number of divorced spouses requesting changes to child support agreements.

At the Central Civil West Courthouse, benches outside 16th-floor family courtrooms were full of parents, some with children in tow.

Martha Padilla, 35, of Santa Fe Springs listened as her ex-husband pleaded with a judge not to raise his $758 monthly payments for their three children. Rogelio Gallegos, 40, a delivery truck driver, said his monthly pay was recently cut from $3,000 to $1,900, and he had a new wife and two other children to support. He wanted to pay less.

"I understand, sir, but having children means making sacrifices," Family Court Commissioner Nicholas Taubert said.

Padilla, a restaurant cashier, had asked for increased payments but offered to make do with the status quo, which she said she relies on to pay for after-school child care. Gallegos, holding his head in his hands, grudgingly agreed.

Two floors above them, dozens more parents waited for their names to be called for child support mediation.

Amador Rios, a mechanic, pays $225 a month to support his 11-year-old son. He came to ask for a reduction after his workweek was reduced to two days, lowering his weekly pay to $160.

"I earn very little, and I have to eat and buy gas," Rios, 43, said as he sat next to the windows, waiting for his name to be called. "There's no work. You go out and look, and they don't have it."

County child support attorneys used to postpone unemployed parents' cases for a few months until they found work, but that is no longer an option, they said.

"There's no guarantee they'll find anything," said Barbara Catlow, head attorney at the Central Civil West child support office.

Most of the cases Catlow sees involve blue-collar workers, but child support officials say they are seeing the same phenomenon in low- and high-income areas, urban and suburban. In Orange County, family courts received 722 requests for child support modification in February, compared with 518 during the same month last year. In the Bay Area county of San Mateo, modification requests were up 30% in February.

"They are either furloughed and they are working less hours, or they have become unemployed and they are trying to avoid accumulating that debt," said Iliana Rodriguez, director of San Mateo County's Department of Child Support Services.

In L.A. County, child support staff withheld 144% more in child support from unemployment checks in February than in the same month last year. The rise in collections from unemployment checks has offset other drops, at least so far. In March, L.A County collected $47.7 million in child support, about half of what was owed and a 2% increase from the same month last year.

Many custodial parents who are owed child support are on the swelling welfare rolls. When the state tracks down fathers and mothers who are delinquent in those cases, their monthly payments offset state aid already paid out to their families.

But there are also signs that more middle-class families are relying on child support to make ends meet. Typically, about 25% of families in L.A. County child support cases have never received government assistance. That rose to 34% in recent months.

In Orange and Ventura counties, the number of parents who had never received assistance and were referred by social services to child support offices increased 14% as of February, compared with the same period last year.

Child support officials said the increases underscore the needs of families who have fallen on hard times but still have resources that make them ineligible to receive welfare, food stamps or other aid. Getting child support owed to them is crucial, said Jennifer Coultas, a lawyer and special assistant to L.A. County's director of Child Support Services. "It's just really hard out there for families."

Coultas and other county child support officials are pushing for California to rethink its "fair share" formula for monthly child support payments owed by noncustodial parents. The guidelines, which take into account how much time children spend with each parent, work out to roughly 25% of the noncustodial parent's net income after state and local taxes for one child; 40% of net income for two children; and 50% of net income for three children. If a parent becomes unemployed, the payments may be adjusted based on new income -- the unemployment pay -- but only after an appeal to a judge for a modification.

Other states, such as New York, which is second only to California in child support collections, take both parents' income into consideration and allow judges to issue "poverty-level" child support orders if a parent becomes unemployed.

"Those states are quicker to respond to economic downturns," Golightly said.

In San Mateo County, Rodriguez, who also serves as president of the state Child Support Directors Assn., compares massive child support debts to foreclosed homes that people walk away from, unable to pay the mortgage.

"At some point, you set the bar too high and the person just feels defeated," she said.

But any attempt to change payment guidelines is likely to face strong opposition from mothers' groups. So far, state child support officials have not taken a position on whether changes should be made in light of the deep recession.

"We understand it's a difficult economic time, but we are focused on collecting child support and making sure those monies go to the individual it is owed to," California Department of Child Support Services spokeswoman T. Maria Caudill said. "Oftentimes, child support makes the difference between a family remaining economically self-sufficient and applying for aid."

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Women Increasingly Paying Alimony

Women Increasingly Paying Alimony by Betsy Schiffman from Forbes Magazine.Article
The picture of equality looks awfully strange to Kim Shamsky. The 47-year-old business owner pays her ex, a 65-year-old retired Major League Baseball player, thousands per month in temporary spousal support. He's not seeking alimony to help pay for the kids' birthday parties, since they don't have children. Nor was he instrumental in building her business. They married seven years after she started a handful of staffing firms and amassed a small fortune on her own. The daughter of a New York City taxi driver, Shamsky started her first staffing agency at age 27 with the help of a 21% loan. Not only was she able to make her first business profitable, but she's also worked furiously to ensure the success of all five businesses she's started since. Small wonder she is outraged at having to pay thousands of dollars a month to her ex. "He used to scream and throw tantrums and demand more money," Shamsky says of her ex-husband. "It was like he thought, 'Hey, you have money, why shouldn't I?'" She adds flatly: "I will never marry again. And I'm getting T-shirts made with the word 'prenup' written across the chest." No doubt Shamsky would find more than a few buyers for the shirts. The idea that men can receive spousal support from their wives may feel like a freakish concept, but as women have become higher earners, it's increasingly common. And as men set their sights on women's earnings, women have become more protective of those dollars. In fact, according to the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, 44% of attorneys included in a recent survey said they've seen an increase in women asking for prenuptial agreements over the last five years, where in previous decades, prenuptial agreements were almost always sought by men. A lot of women are indignant now that the shoe is increasingly on the other foot, says Carol Ann Wilson, a certified financial divorce practitioner in Boulder, Colo. "There's this sense of, 'What's yours is ours, but what's mine is mine,'" Wilson says. "My first response to that is, 'All these years we have been looking for equality; well, this is what it looks like.' I think women get angrier about having to pay than men do." The ordeal has been played up in gossip magazines and tabloids, which have closely followed countless examples of celebrity breakups in which men have sought, or have threatened to seek, spousal support. Teen idol and crooner Nick Lachey reportedly requested the right to seek spousal support from ex-wife pop singer Jessica Simpson last year. (Lachey is seven years older than Simpson and reportedly worth significantly less.) In another splashy case, Hardy Boy Parker Stevenson sought $18,000 per month from actress Kirstie Alley when they divorced, just to cover the rent on his Bel Air home. But Wilson emphasizes that it's not just actresses or the wealthiest women who are seeking prenuptial agreements or paying spousal support. "I've seen thousands of clients," she says, "and almost every time I've seen a stay-at-home dad seek alimony, the wife--she's usually a software executive--goes ballistic." Some women find it's not a battle worth fighting, according to Cheryl Lynn Hepfer, the Rockville, Md.-based president of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers. Hepfer says she's seen women who have happily chosen to pay off their husbands in an effort to maintain their sanity and keep the peace. "I once represented a wealthy woman who had the wherewithal to pay $6,000 a month to her husband--and this was probably 10 years ago--so she paid him," Hepfer says, adding that the client also gave her ex the boat and the house on the water. "She wasn't bitter about it at all. She was a business woman, and for her, this was a business decision." Hepfer says she did it to preserve the relationship with her former husband and their two children. "She knew it would be beneficial for the kids." Just as some women object to men's request for spousal support, some men are particularly uncomfortable seeking it. Either they find it emasculating to ask, or they find the idea of receiving an allowance from their ex-wives humiliating, according to divorce attorneys. "The fact is that you still don't see too many cases where men seek alimony," says William Beslow, a divorce attorney in New York City. "One reason is that although women may earn more than men, they often wind up with custody of the children, and when a woman takes up primary responsibility for the children, men don't request maintenance." Some men avoid the embarrassment by seeking a bigger bite of the marital assets instead of asking for alimony. Not only do lump-sum payments save them the humiliation of accepting monthly support, but they also reduce the ex-husband's taxes, since spousal support payments are taxed, while assets are not. On the flip side, in those situations when men receive assets, women lose their tax benefit, because spousal support is tax-deductible, Hepfer notes. The upshot: Even if it's easier to settle with one swift payment, consult an accountant first to learn the tax consequences. It may be better for you financially to pay alimony. Kim Shamsky admits she's angry about paying her ex-husband spousal support mostly because he's a man. After all, men are supposed to be breadwinners, not bread takers. "A real man just wouldn't do this sort of thing," she says. "Maybe it's my Italian upbringing, but I don't think it's right." Right or not, as women's earnings grow, so will their financial responsibility during divorce. That's equality for you.

California spousal support

Overwiew of Child Support

Child Support Overview

In 1999, over $14 billion was owed to California's children. 35% of families with single mothers had income below the poverty line. Statistics show that payment of child support reduces poverty and corresponds to greater involvement by the non-custodial parent in the children's lives.

Child Support Basics

Child Support must be paid by a non-custodial parent until the child marries, dies, is emancipated, turns 18 and is not a full time school student, or turns 19 if they are a full time high school student, whichever occurs first. An adult child who is disabled and unable to earn a living has an ongoing right to support.

How Much Support? The "Guideline"


In California, the courts use a complex mathematical formula to calculate child support that is based on a number of factors such as the gross income of each parent, the percentage of time each parent spends with each child, available tax deductions, child care costs, tax status of each parent and so on. This amount is often referred to as the "guideline" child support amount. Because of the complexity of calculating the "guideline" amount, the Court uses a software program called "Dissomaster." Most attorneys use this program and will be able to perform child support calculations. The Dissomaster software can be found at www.cflr.com. Any child support order must specify the amount of child support and when it is to be paid. Couples often agree to monthly payments in two installments to coincide with the payor's bi-weekly receipt of wages.

Deviations From The Guideline

The Court may depart from the "guideline" amount in a number of situations set forth in Family Code section 4057 (b). For example, the parent ordered to pay child support may have extraordinary high income and the guideline amount would exceed the needs of the children. Another example would be where the children have special medical or other needs that require an amount greater than the guideline.

"Add-ons" to Child Support

There are a number of additional expenses that the non-custodial parent may be required to pay in full or in part. Mandatory add-ons that the Court is required to order include child care costs related to employment or training or education for employment and the reasonable uninsured health care costs for the children. Discretionary add-ons include costs related to educational or other special needs of the children and travel expenses for visitation. Generally, the Court will allocate add-ons equally between the parties. However, if the paying parent can prove that this would be unfair, Family Code section 4061(b) provides a procedure for the Court to allocate the payment of add-ons according to the net spendable income of each party. This most often comes into play where one party is also paying spousal support.

Health Care For The Children

Family Code section 3751 requires the Court, when making a child support order, to order either or both parents to maintain health insurance for the minor children if it is available at no cost or at a reasonable cost.

Getting a Child Support Order

Once a petition in a dissolution (divorce) has been filed a parent may request that the Court order temporary child support for children born during the marriage. Where the parents are not married, before the Court can order support, paternity must be established. Since January 1, 1995, all hospitals have been required to provide unmarried parents with the opportunity to voluntarily acknowledge paternity by signing a Voluntary Declaration of Paternity. If this is signed and not rescinded within 60 days it has the same effect as a paternity judgment and can provide the basis for custody, visitation or support. Even if it has not been challenged a motion for genetic testing may still be brought within two years of the child's birth challenging the Voluntary Declaration of Paternity.

Department of Child Support Services (DCSS)

Parents can retain a private attorney to establish and collect support or employ the services of the Department of Child Support Services (DCSS). Unfortunately, Los Angeles County has one of the poorest child collection records in the state and fares poorly when compared to national statistics.

Enforcing a Child Support Order

In California, every time the Court makes a child support Order it must issue a Wage Assignment Order that directs the payor's employer to deduct the amount of child support from wages and pay it directly to the payee parent. The wage assignment can be stayed by written agreement of the parties.

Other Remedies

If you are owed child support arrears you may request that Court hold the payor parent be held in contempt. If you can prove that non-payment was knowing and willful, the payor parent can be fined and even jailed.

If you are owed child support arrears you may bring an Order To Show Cause requesting that the Court determine the amount of arrearages. You can also petition the Court for a Writ of Execution which can be used against bank accounts.

Family Code section 4600 also allows the Court to order the payor parent to deposit up to one year's child support payments in an interest bearing account as security. This can be used if there's been a problem receiving child support in the past or if the payor is self employed.


If you already have a judgment in your case you can find out if their income has changed by having them served with a Request for Production of an Income and Expense Declaration After Judgment (form FL-396) on the other parent, along with an Income and Expense Declaration (form FL-150) which are available from www.courtinfo.ca.gov/forms/


Child support is not taxable income to the parent who receives it and it cannot be deducted by the parent who pays it.