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Posted on October 31, 2015 in Assets,Child Support,Prenuptial Agreement

Another fun support case on the other side of the spectrum from Stewart v. Gomez is the In re Marriage of De Guigne. This is a quote from the De Guigne case regarding the parties’ background:

“The family maintained an opulent lifestyle. The house was staffed by two housekeepers, three gardeners, a laundress, chef, child care provider and a part-time chauffeur. The de Guignes frequently took costly vacations, and maintained multiple club memberships. The children attended private school and engaged in activities including horseback riding, tennis and piano lessons, various sporting activities, and overnight camps. Mrs. De Guigne purchased expensive clothing for herself and the girls and she incurred significant monthly expenses for personal services such as haircare, makeup and massage.”

The family lived in the, “(A)ncestral home which was a 16,000 square-foot Hillsboro mansion built in 1918 by Mr. De Guine’s grandfather.” It was surrounded by 47 1/2 acres containing hiking trails, streams, wildlife, and gardens.

This lifestyle cost the family $450,000 a year, which their income alone could not support. To make ends meet, the De Guignes continuously sold securities and other separate property assets. For example, the husband withdrew over $4 million from his stock account, sold an antique knife collection for $425,000, and sold a second house for $725,000. All of this money was spent to support the family’s opulent lifestyle.

However, when Mrs. De Guigne took her husband to court for alimony and child support during the divorce, Mr. De Guigne began singing the line in that song by the Beatles, “All the money’s gone nowhere to go….” But wait… remember that Mr. De Guigne still had the Hillsborough mansion. So what did the trial court do? The judge had “That magic feeling!”

The trial court set spousal support and child support at a total of $27,500. That was $15,000 in child support (three times the California guideline amount under these circumstances) and $12,500 in alimony per month. The court noted that even that amount would be a reduction in the children and parties’ standard of living! The trial court based the support order on the parties’ opulent lifestyle and Mr. De Guigne’s use of separate property wealth to maintain that lifestyle during the marriage.

Following trial, Mr. De Guigne appealed on the issue of whether or not the trial court could order such a high child support amount. The Court of Appeal said yes, a trial court can consider Mr. De Guigne’s special circumstances and order that amount of support pursuant to California Family Code section 4057(b)(5). This court reasoned that the opulent lifestyle of the children and the wife would not have to end just because of the divorce. The court relied on the wife’s expert’s testimony that the house and land could probably be sold for $25-$30 million. To maintain the opulent lifestyle, the husband had the ability to subdivide and sell roughly 40 acres around the house.

This case illustrates the importance of the family lifestyle in setting support, so long as there is a way to maintain it. Just like in Stewart v. Gomez, In re Marriage of De Guigne shows that the Court has broad discretion in what it can consider income.