Kevin Costner's Estranged Wife Seeks $248,000 a Month in Child Support

Former “Yellowstone” Star, Asking for a $51K/MO. Order, Must Pay $130K Temporarily

Celebrity watchers are enjoying the summer serial unfolding in the family court of Santa Barbara County. To briefly recap, Christine Baumgartner, 49, the estranged wife of film and TV star Kevin Costner, 68, filed for divorce in May, after the couple had been separated for about a month. The petition cites “irreconcilable differences” as the reason, but Costner has stated he does not want a divorce from his wife of 18 years, who is the mother of three of his children. While it’s always headline news when a Hollywood celebrity of Costner’s stature goes through a divorce, this breakup has attracted particular attention because of the wife’s demand for child support. Baumgartner is demanding a cool quarter million a month in addition to the entire cost of their children’s private school tuition, healthcare, and extracurricular activities.

Costner has said that his offer of $51,000 a month is sufficient and is as much as he can afford since he ended his stint on the hit series Yellowstone and will no longer be drawing his $20 million salary. He accuses Baumgartner of using the money for purposes unrelated to their children, such as cosmetic procedures and boutique shopping. Costner has four other children from previous relationships, including his first marriage which ended in 1994. However, those children are all adults, so there is no legal obligation to provide support.

In addition to the child support dispute, the Costners are wrangling over the family’s Santa Barbara residence, where Baumgartner and the children have continued to live. Costner claims that a prenuptial agreement requires Baumgartner to vacate the premises, while she argues it would be too disruptive to uproot the children prematurely, before the couple has a financial plan in place. Moving out precipitously could mean multiple relocations before they can find a suitable permanent residence. A hearing on the validity of the prenuptial agreement has been scheduled for November.

Temporary Child Support Order More or Less Splits the Difference

On July 12, Judge Thomas Anderle ordered Costner to pay $129,755 per month in temporary child support, along with 50 percent of the additional expenses. A full hearing will take place in the coming months, so that amount is subject to change under the final divorce decree.

Where Is All the Money Supposed to Go?

If payments are designated as child support, the funds should be spent on the children. This means providing a residence, food, and clothing. Judges like to see children maintained at the standard of living they were enjoying prior to the divorce. And the Costner kids were (are) living in a $145 million Santa Barbara mansion, complete with staff. We can also assume there were plenty of lavish family vacations. Maintaining the kids at this level means finding them another Santa Barbara mansion to inhabit, and such digs don’t come cheap. Moreover, and probably most galling for Costner, maintaining the kids in opulence requires him to maintain their mother likewise.

Does this level of child support allow Baumgartner to do a little skimming, and spend child support funds on herself? That’s contrary to the intent of the law, but child support orders generally don’t come with accounting requirements. In The Untouchables, Costner’s character discovered the power of accounting as a way of reining in the villainous Al Capone. His attorneys might put that lesson to good use by arguing that a court should not grant this high an award without reporting requirements and controls to prevent abuse. Costner might also argue that any surplus should be returned to him or deducted from the next month’s payment.

Coming Soon: Dances with Bankruptcy?

Although it’s true he won’t draw his Yellowstone salary, Costner will still get his back-end pay on that series as long as the show is in production. Meanwhile, he’s not unemployed. Costner has a three-picture deal with Warner Bros. to direct a Western saga entitled Horizon that he will also appear in. He’s also amassed a personal fortune estimated at $400 million.

Costner might seek to maintain his children at their accustomed standard of living by obtaining sole custody. He could certainly argue that it wouldn’t hurt them to live more modestly on visits to their mother. But, given that he’s committed to long film shoots on location, it doesn’t look like he’s available to act as a primary custodial parent. Costner is not much of a homebody, according to Baumgartner, who has cited the workaholic actor’s time away as a primary factor leading to her dissatisfaction with the marriage.

How bruising will the fight ahead be? Costner has plenty of financial motive to go to the mat, and the resources to pay whatever legal fees he deems necessary. Baumgartner, a former handbag designer, cannot match his spending, and has asked the court to require Costner to advance her an additional $350,000 in attorney’s fees and $150,000 in forensic costs by Aug. 1. If the court orders Costner to pay Baumgartner’s legal fees, which is likely, Costner loses the advantage of his war chest and would be fighting that battle of attrition with himself.

Will the Prenup Stand?

Much of the case will hinge on the validity of the couple’s premarital agreement. Costner had already been through the rigors of one Hollywood divorce, and a decade passed before he was willing to tie the knot again. One would think that an intelligent man, as he appears to be, would have gotten the best available advice on drafting and executing the prenup. It will be interesting to see how the contract stands up to court scrutiny.


Karen Rosenthal

Karen B. Rosenthal is a partner and co-founder at matrimonial litigation firm Bikel Rosenthal & Schanfield LLP, where she brings 35 years of matrimonial law experience to bear in matters involving high-net-worth equitable distribution, contentious custody battles, and other high-stakes disputes. Certified as an Attorney for the Child and a frequent speaker on topics related to children going through high-conflict divorce, she has been recognized as a leading New York lawyer by Super Lawyers, Best Lawyers, Crain's New York Business magazine, and New York magazine.

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