In the pending marital dissolution involving Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt, the parties through the media are debating whether a loan made by Mr. Pitt to Ms. Jolie should be considered child support. From this writer’s perspective what should be explored is why parents want to wage a media war that will likely be of no benefit to their children.
What I have observed in more than four decades of practicing in the world we call “family law” is that angry parents who are in the process of separating do not focus on the consequences their fight over money will have on their children. In this instance the parties are compounding the problem by making their situation public.
In California, child support is calculated by applying a computer formula that considers the relative income of the parties and the custodial time each party has with the children. The formula results in a presumptively correct support payment. The goal of our legislature in adopting a formula approach was to simplify the process and reduce legal fees and costs. However, where the court is considering parents who earn extra ordinary high income the party asked to pay support has the right to contest the computer formula support amount if the formula results in the payment of an unrealistic amount of child support. The legal test is whether the formula amount exceeds the needs of the children. In addition to the formula amount courts order a contribution to child care costs related to employment and reasonable uninsured health care costs for the children. Parties often also agree to share the cost of extraordinary expenses such as the cost of tutoring and summer camp.
Of course, a computer formula does not speak to how to handle a situation where a party claims he or she made a loan to the other party that was used to acquire housing for the children or how the alleged loan should be factored into an assessment of what are the required needs to support the children of the marriage. The parties in the Jolie/Pitt case will no doubt present forensic expert reports. The experts will discuss if the formula support amount exceeds the reasonable support needs of the children. Evidence will also be introduced by experts who will opine about how the interest rate that is being charged and the cost/benefit of the loan increases or reduces Jolie’s housing expenses. At the end of the day, a judicial officer will adjudicate the amount of child support. But this writer asks the parties to what end? Yes, one party may walk away feeling that he or she prevailed but in the final analysis will the victory be one that benefits the innocent children who are the indirect participants of the battle?
I often counsel clients before they engage in litigation of all types whether it be over child custody, child support, spousal support, or property division to consider how the litigation will impact the parties and their children. I also suggest to my clients that they discuss in therapy with a mental health professional the best way to bring closure to the marriage and find a path toward settlement outside the courtroom and certainly without involving the media. It may be these efforts have been explored in the Jolie/Pitt matter. But for those who are reading about the loan saga, my hope is this article will allow those embroiled in divorce litigation to think about working through their anger and seek an amicable settlement of their differences. If this occurs, the children of the marriage will benefit.