Hall of Fame quarterback Dan Marino made headlines recently when it was revealed that he had fathered a child with a CBS intern while still married to his wife of twenty eight years. Marino has reportedly paid the mother of his now seven year old daughter millions of dollars in child support over the past seven years pursuant to an agreement reached out of court. The mother has apparently used her windfall to buy multiple homes, including a lavish Hamptons mansion, and travel extensively. Supermodel Linda Evangelista was also in the news recently when she demanded $47,000.00 per month in child support from her billionaire boyfriend, Francois-Henri Pinault, who is the father of her five year old son. Their dispute went to the eve of trial before settling for an undisclosed amount.
Marino and Evangelista settled their child support disputes privately, but if they had gone to trial, how would a New York court have handled these issues and what New York State laws would apply?
New York State enacted mandatory child support guidelines in 1989 via Domestic Relations Law section 240(1-b) and Family Court Act section 413, also known as the Child Support Standards Act. Under the Act, the first $136,000.00 of the parents’ combined income is multiplied by a percentage which depends on the number of children. For one child, the percentage is 17%, for two children, 25%, for three children, 29% for four children, 31% and for five or more children, 35%.
For parents whose income is in the stratosphere, like Marino and billionaire Pinault, the courts have broad discretion to deviate from the statutory amounts and award substantial child support. However, the courts are constrained by the variance factors contained in the Child Support Standards Act. These ten factors are used to determine the correct amount of child support when the statutory amount is deemed “unjust or inappropriate” because it is either excessively high or too low to meet the child’s needs. Among the factors to be considered are the financial resources of the parties and the child, the health and special needs of the child, the standard of living the child would have enjoyed if the marriage or household had not broken up and the educational needs of the child. There is also a catchall factor allowing the court to consider anything it deems relevant.
In high profile, high income cases, the courts have applied an actual needs of the child test and look at what is really being spent on the child instead of looking at the millions of dollars in income. This means that if the Marino matter had gone to court, the judge would have limited the child support to what was necessary to meet the child’s needs and avoided giving the mother a windfall which would enrich her. Where the noncustodial parent has extraordinary financial resources, there will be a significant basic child support award and additional awards for child care and medical costs (which are mandatory under the law). The super rich parent will very likely also have to pony up for private school tuition, afterschool activities and summer camp.
Ms. Evangelista listed expenses for her child including $175,000.00 per year for bodyguards and a driver and $90,000.00 per year for round the clock nannies. Her demands went beyond anything awarded by the New York courts. In fact, in 2006, an appellate decision reduced a child support award against Sean “P Diddy” Combs from $35,000.00 per month to $19,000.00 per month. The appellate court applied the actual needs test, stating that “in high income cases, the appropriate determination… for an award of child support…should be based on the child’s actual needs and the amount that is required for the child to live an appropriate lifestyle, rather than the wealth of one or both parties.” Brim v. Combs, 25 A.D.2d 691, 808 N.Y.S.2d 735 (2d Dep’t 2006).
Child support cases can be complex. Even for people without millions of dollars at their disposal, the child support calculation is not always as simple as multiplying the parents’ income by a percentage. Depending on your situation and how the various factors apply, the child support award can deviate considerably from the statutory amount. An experienced family law attorney can determine how to best present your case to ensure a positive outcome for you and your children.