Yellowstone actor Kevin Costner’s estranged wife Christine Baumgartner filed for divorce May 1, 2023, and requested a staggering $248,000 per month in child support payments for the couple’s three minor children, ages 13, 14, and 16.
Christine claims the $248,000 request is necessary to maintain the lifestyle their children are used to. Christine further requests Costner pay 100% the cost of private school tuition, extracurriculars, and health care expenses for all three kids.
Children of celebrities and other high-income earners may certainly be accustomed to a higher standard of living.
In California, both parents owe their minor children a duty of support under Family Code section 3900. California uses a “statewide uniform guideline” to come up with a “presumptively correct” child support amount.
Although the term “guideline” is used, courts are mandated to apply the statewide formula when adjudicating any kind of support award for children. The child support guidelines aim to generate support amounts that reflect the parents’ economic circumstances.
Under Family Code section 4053, the guideline considers each parent’s income and level of responsibility for the children. Each parent has the obligation to support their children according to their ability.
The two main factors accounted for in the California child support guidelines are the monthly net disposable income of both parents and the approximate percentage of time the higher earning parent has primary physical responsibility for the children compared to the other parent.
Often, when the payor parent's income is extraordinarily high, the statutory formula amount will be extremely high. The guideline child support amount may be revised upward or downward in particular cases where there is a showing the formula amount is “unjust or inappropriate.”
Typically, the payor parent will argue the guideline amount exceeds the reasonable needs of the child--as Kevin Costner’s attorney’s will likely do in his case.
Courts have generally held it is appropriate to deviate downward from the guideline formula, so long as the support order remains in the child’s best interest. The payor spouse has the burden of proving the formula amount is unjust or inappropriate because it exceeds the children’s reasonable needs.
The California Family Code does not explicitly define how courts should measure a child’s reasonable needs. Therefore, attorneys must rely on well-developed case law to make the strongest arguments in their client’s favor.
In a seminal family law case, Christine Baumgartner argues $248,000 per month in child support is reasonable to support the couple’s three children. Sources report Costner’s annual net disposable income in 2022 was $7,595,520, which would equal roughly $632,960 per month.
Based on current case law, a support award of almost a quarter million dollars per month with an average monthly income of around $633,000 seems very high. Costner’s attorneys will likely be successful arguing $248,000 per month is far beyond the reasonable needs of the children.
Under Family Code section 4057(b)(3) a court cannot deviate from the guideline without first calculating the guideline amount. However, there is one narrow exception when it comes to extraordinarily high earners.
If both parents agree that the paying parent is an extraordinarily high earner and further agree on the amount of appropriate support, a formula calculation is not required. This type of stipulation usually occurs when a higher earning parent concedes they can and will pay whatever reasonable amount of child support would be ordered.
There is no word about whether Costner and his ex-wife will attempt to reach an out-of-court agreement on this issue.
If you or the other parent of your child is a high-income earner, you need to ensure any child support orders that deviate from the guideline formula are based on the reasonable needs of your children. If you want to stipulate out of court, you would be wise not to try and DIY the agreement.
Do not hesitate to contact Cage & Miles, LLP, for assistance working through the support issues in your case. Our experienced attorneys are well-versed in high-earner disputes and have the knowledge necessary to present your strongest arguments to the court or draft your enforceable child support stipulation.