Family Law Corner: Judge Veers Over Two and a Half Times Under Guideline Calculations in Child Support Order

Jon Cryer, who earns $700,000 per month as star of CBS’s “Two and a Half Men” according to his most recently filed Income and Expense Declaration, defeated his ex-wife’s request to raise her monthly child support payment. Sarah Trigger, the mother of his thirteen year old son had been receiving $8,000 per month and was seeking an upward modification to $88,000 per month based on a change in circumstances due to her increased custodial time.  For good measure, she included a “lifestyle” argument, specifically that their son could not live up to the standard of living of his peers.  According to ABC News, her testimony was that their son’s friends have "huge birthday parties at expensive places like Sky High Sports and they invite the entire grade” and "[L]ast year there were multiple Bar Mitzvahs and Bat Mitzvahs all with custom invitations, a dress code and huge private receptions afterward."

Trigger’s increase in timeshare from 4% to 50% does constitute admissible evidence of changed circumstances as a predicate for modification under Family Code §3680 et seq, so it is curious why the trial court in this case did not modify child support. Cryer had previously lost an appeal to reduce his support order when Trigger had only a 4% timeshare because Trigger’s timeshare was increasing and the Court found a decrease in support would harm the child.  It may be that the current Court did not increase support because of this prior decision.

Trigger also alleged that Cryer earned significantly more than $700,000 per month, although the Judge apparently found that Cryer’s income claims were accurate.  Nevertheless, $8,000 per month calculated on Cryer’s income of $700,000 per month appears to be less than the guideline calculation if Trigger’s earnings are minimal.

The child support “guideline” calculation was signed into law in its current form in 1992 to take into account each parent’s income and each parent’s custodial timeshare and is codified as Family Code §4055.   The amount established by the formula is presumed to be correct (Family Code §4057(a)).  However, the presumption can be rebutted if evidence shows that application of the formula would be unjust or inappropriate.  Cryer may have rebutted the presumption due to his extraordinarily high income if he could also show that the amount determined under the formula would exceed his son’s needs.  However, if the court exercised discretion and ordered a lower-than-guideline amount, it would have had to provide a statement of reasons for doing so (see Marriage of Hall (2000) 81 Cal.App.4th 313), reasons that the media have not reported thus far.