July 5th, 2012 by Robert Franklin, Esq.
As the whole world knows by now, actress Halle Berry is in a child custody fight with her ex-boyfriend, the child’s father, model Gabriel Aubry. The dispute has been raging for many months with allegations of child abuse and battery being leveled at Aubry by, among others, their daughter’s nanny. While those have been found to be unsubstantiated, Berry has asked the court to allow her to move to France to be with her current flame, Olivier Martinez. Understandably, Aubry resists the move since it would mean he’d rarely see his daughter Nahla.
So the issue of custody is pending as is the issue of whether Berry can move to France and take their child with her. If I were the judge, I know how I’d rule. I’d tell Berry she can move anywhere she wants to, but she can’t take the child with her. I would never interfere with her desire to change residences or be with whomever she chooses. But all that changes when she wants to all-but-terminate the relationship between father and child. Berry’s the one who wants to move, so she should be the one to bear the consequences of her choice. And if moving away from her daughter proves to be too big a price to pay, then she can stay in the U.S., have a real co-parenting deal with Aubry and Nahla will be better off because of it.
Seemingly every article I’ve read on the subject includes a quotation from Berry like this one:
“Our issues were never about fighting for her. We both know a child needs both her parents. But what I want to say about it is sometimes, as a couple, you reach an impasse. We needed a court and a judge to help us work out some of the delicate issues … because for her sake, this is the best way. We both love her more than life.”
So, if Berry knows Nahla needs both parents, why’s she moving to France?
We’ll see what the judge decides. But for the time being the judge has issued an order on the issue of child support, awarding Aubry the astonishing sum of $20,000 per month for the support of a single four-year-old girl. Here’s one article on the subject (Time, 6/21/12). Put simply, that’s ridiculous. Of course it requires nothing like $240,000 to support a child part-time over the course of a year. One-tenth that would be more than enough. OK, I know that this child is used to a certain standard of living that most kids aren’t. She’s got a very rich mommy and a fairly rich daddy, and that means she’s accustomed to a life the vast majority of kids have no concept of. And to an extent, she should be permitted to continue a high standard of living. I’m not arguing she should live in poverty, but with those two as her parents, that’ll l never happen.
The reason that the judge hit Berry with such an exorbitant sum is that she can afford it and the judge has little or no discretion in the matter. It’s a mathematical formula and when it’s applied to Berry’s earnings, apparently you come up with $20k per month for one child.
The determination of child support is flawed for a number of reasons. In the first place, children are perfectly capable of understanding that, when Mommy and Daddy split up, many things change and one of them may be their standard of living. Any competent parent can make that clear to the child and most kids learn to roll with the punches. But child support law aims to work magic; it seeks an unchanged lifestyle for a child in a situation that has unquestionably changed. You can’t maintain two households as easily as one on the same incomes. Everyone understands that, probably including children, but child support laws are at pains to deny it.
Likewise, child support law cares nothing for the welfare of the non-custodial parent or the members of his/her household. Of course no one is shedding tears for poor Halle Berry, but the same law that applies to her applies to everyone in the State of California. And far more often than not, the non-custodial parent is put in a tight spot by the obligation of support. So are his second wife and step-children if he has them, but child support laws overlook them entirely. Isn’t that ironic?
So, while no one believes that $20k a month will strap Halle Berry, the case should serve as a wake-up call to legislators. Child support laws are in bad need of a dramatic overhaul. One place to start is the calculation that considers only the incomes of the parents and ignores the child’s actual needs.