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Wealthy family not required to support son's ex-wife or children

A California appellate court recently ruled that money a man had received from his wealthy parents during the course of his marriage should be categorized as income for purposes of establishing child support and spousal support. However, the court also found that the man's parents were no longer supporting him, and so agreed with the trial court's decision not to take his parents' wealth into account when evaluating his ability to pay.

The couple separated in 2009 following a 20-year marriage during which they and their children averaged $45,000 in monthly expenses, despite the fact that neither parent earned an income. The husband's mother is an heir to a real estate fortune and, according to court documents, the family relied on money from the husband's parents. Each of the husband, wife and three children received an annual tax-free gift of $26,000, and larger sums of money passed to the husband from the parents as well.

The wife asked the trial court to award her $28,782 in monthly spousal support. The court awarded her $2,000 per month, taking into account only the husband's $99,000 total annual income from a job with a newspaper and his parents and his trust account.

The court declined to decide whether the family money transfers should be categorized as loans, advances on the husband's inheritance or gifts, focusing instead on the fact that the transfers had apparently ceased. Generous relatives are not under an obligation, according to the court, to provide for ex-spouse or the minor children of a family member.

The lower court had erred, though, in using the proceeds from the sale of a marital asset to pay spousal support because the ruling effectively required the wife to pay for half of her own support, according to the court. In a case like this, a divorce lawyer may be able to help a client during trial to preserve issues for appeal and then to navigate the appeal process.

Source: Courthouse News Service, "Wealthy Couple's Divorce Makes a Stunning Read", William Dotinga, June 13, 2014

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