I recently posted a blog about celebrity divorces being clickbait versus celebrity divorces with interesting issues. Well, an interesting issue has arisen with two of the most popular names right now, for better or worse (no pun intended).
It seems that Kim Kardashian and Kanye West’s divorce is finally final. Although the parties had a prenuptial agreement, finalizing their divorce terms took quite some time, likely because child support and custody cannot be bargained for in a prenuptial agreement so even though the asset distribution is defined (and maybe spousal support), terms related to arguably the most cherished part of a marriage – the children – are not. Their divorce had various interesting topics, including bifurcation so that they could legally divorce before the terms are finalized, which is not commonly granted in New Jersey, publicizing alleged custody disputes on social media when your followers make up a large part of the general population, which is frowned upon to say the least especially because children will have access to view those posts (internet is forever), and now child support.
According to the news reports, Kanye West has a child support obligation to Kim Kardashian of $200,000 per month for their four children. When I first read this, I had some sticker shock. I mean their wealth knows no bounds, Kanye once gifted Kim $1M in a check as though that’s normal, Kim just made a $1M donation to a baby focused charity (okay, I’m embarrassed I know this stuff)… but $200,000 per month in child support was a number new to me in terms of child support, which is typically less than spousal support.
In New Jersey, we start determining child support with guidelines that apply to families with a combined net annual income cap of $187,200. When families have income in excess of that cap, the Court Rules and the case law tells us to look to the needs of the children, which is supposed to be based off of a specific budget. Specifically, Appendix IX-A to Court Rule 5:6A provides “If the combined net income of the parents is more than $187,200 per year, the court shall apply the guidelines up to $187,200 and supplement the guidelines-based award with a discretionary amount based on the remaining family income (i.e., income in excess of $187,200) and the factors specified in N.J.S.A. 2A:34-23. The factors listed in that statute include:
(1) Needs of the child;
(2) Standard of living and economic circumstances of each parent;
(3) All sources of income and assets of each parent;
(4) Earning ability of each parent, including educational background, training, employment skills, work experience, custodial responsibility for children including the cost of providing child care and the length of time and cost of each parent to obtain training or experience for appropriate employment;
(5) Need and capacity of the child for education, including higher education;
(6) Age and health of the child and each parent;
(7) Income, assets and earning ability of the child;
(8) Responsibility of the parents for the court-ordered support of others;
(9) Reasonable debts and liabilities of each child and parent; and
(10) Any other factors the court may deem relevant.
Case law, such as Strahan v. Strahan and Isaacson v. Isaacson, teaches us that just because one parent may be extremely wealthy, doesn’t mean that parent’s children are entitled to more than “three ponies”, or the three pony rule. Rather, the dominant factor considered, even where parents have extreme wealth, is the reasonable needs of the child(ren) and crafting a child support award that does not focus solely on income but, also, the established lifestyle of the children that is related to the parental values. So, yes, $200,000 per month is a lot to say the least…. and certainly each of these children can have more than three ponies… but it works for them.
Yes, Kim is undeniably wealthy. However, Kanye is likely more wealthy based on his support obligation, unless he just has very little parenting time. The news reports say that they share joint legal and physical custody of their children, which can sometimes indicate a 50/50 parenting plan, but I don’t believe that’s the case here, again based on my (ridiculous) knowledge of reality tv drama… what can I say, we all have guilty pleasures. But, in addition to the useless knowledge of their unequal parenting time, the news reports also indicate that they equally share medical, educational, and security expenses for their children above child support, and there is a mutual waiver of spousal support. Thus, the equal sharing of those expenses, which generally relates to a pro rata share of income in New Jersey, would indicate that their ability to pay those expenses are the same even without spousal support, again leading to the parenting time schedule having an impact on the child support obligation itself. All speculation.
The long of the short of it is, while $200,000 per month in child support may have raised eyebrows, a quick internet search shows that their lifestyles are undeniably large. So, the children are entitled to live just as excessively based on their established lifestyle, and the support recipient (here, Kim) is entitled to have the funds to provide the children with a lifestyle similar to the lifestyle they’ll experience with the support payor (here, Kanye).
The ‘reality’ here is that each situation is unique and cannot be viewed in a vacuum. To be clear, I am not judging the choice or the child support amount, their lifestyle is viewed by millions of people every day, just simply addressing the amount of support that, if litigated in New Jersey, may not prevail.
__________________________________________________________________________________________Lindsay A. Heller is a partner in the firm’s Family Law practice, based in its Morristown, NJ office. You can reach Lindsay at 973.548.3318 or firstname.lastname@example.org.