NEW YORK (MainStreet) Oscar-winning actress Halle Berry joins the ranks of celebrity moms like Madonna and Britney Spears who are paying child support to the father of their children.
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"The law is gender neutral and support is the right of the child not the parent," said Jonathan Wolfe, an attorney and partner with Skoloff & Wolfe. "If you are the higher wage earner, man or woman, be prepared to pay."
Women are increasingly on the hook for child support regardless of marital status.
More than half of divorce lawyers surveyed by the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers cited an increase in the number of mothers assigned to make child support payments in the past five years.
"Just like in sports, new levels of financial awards, contract salaries and divorce settlements raise the bar for those in the future," said Kevin R. Worthley, a certified financial planner with Equitable Divorce Solutions. "No surprise if Halle's settlement does the same."
Berry agreed to pay $16,000 a month to her ex-boyfriend Gabriel Aubry for the joint care of their 6-year old daughter Nahla.
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"Courts look at income from all sources, such as earned income and income earned from their assets," Wolfe told MainStreet. "When fixing the rate of return for unearned income, courts will be guided by the actual historical returns or impute a reasonable assumed rate of return."
Other high profile child support disputes include rapper Sean "Diddy" Combs, who was reportedly ordered to pay about $19,000 a month in support in 2005 and Revlon Inc. Chairman Ronald Perelman who was ordered to pay about $12,000 a month in 1999.
"These are generally millionaires from their acting, endorsement and business endeavors so several hundred thousand dollars a year while still a lot of money may not impact their income as much as people may think," said Worthley.
In Berry's case, Superior Court Judge Scott Gordon approved the settlement agreement awarding Aubry nearly annually $200,000 until Nahla turns 19 or graduates from high school whichever comes first. The 47-year-old will also cover their daughter's school tuition, an estimated $30,000 a year, and split health care expenses with 38-year-old Aubry.
"Halle's $200,000 a year child support plus tuition would only be 2% of a $10 million dollar portfolio and may not be a big deal to her just like $2,000 from a $100,000 portfolio in a middle-income person's asset bracket isn't a big deal," Worthley told MainStreet.
The former Hollywood couple's squabble included a physical altercation between Aubry and Berry's current husband Olivier Martinez at a time when Berry had been pushing for permission to relocate to France, but Judge Gordon blocked the move. The parents will share equal custody of Nahla.
"In some states courts use guidelines to fix child support that are based on a percentage of the parties' income but in most states the guidelines do not apply over a certain level of income," Wolfe said. "That means there will be wide discretion of financial award for high-income earners and courts recognize children are entitled to share in the good fortune of their parents."
Berry must also pay the Canadian father of her first child a retroactive payment of $115,000 and $300,000 to his attorneys to cover the costs of their custody dispute.
--Written by Juliette Fairley for MainStreet