Exorbitant Celebrity Child Support Payments: Is it All for the Kids?

Over the summer we saw Christine Baumgartner demand $248,000 a month in child support in her divorce from Kevin Costner for the three children of their marriage. Costner had countered that his offer of $51,000 was more than sufficient, and the court seemed to split the difference with a temporary order of $129,755 per month in temporary support plus 50 percent of additional expenses.

Costner accused Baumgartner of padding her requests for her own benefit, which is certainly within the realm of possibility. The story raises two important questions. First, how does the Costner child support order stack up against similarly positioned celebrities? And second, could all that money possibly be going to pay for the monthly maintenance of kids?

Here, briefly, is a list of reported or rumored child support orders that are on the high end, even for celebrities.

  • Kelly Clarkson — $45,601 each month for two children to spend one weekend with ex-Brandon Blackstock.
  • Nick Cannon — Pays an estimated $1.2 million each year in support for seven children.
  • Britney Spears — Pays ex-Kevin Federline $36,600 a month for each of the couple's two sons, Sean and Jayden. E! News reported that Spears "shelled out $444,432 for child support and care" in 2010.
  • Eddie Murphy — The father of 10 pays $73,000 a month to former Spice Girl Mel B for the support of one daughter, Angel.
  • Tom Cruise — Pays ex-wife Katie Holmes $400,000 a year in child support for daughter Suri as well as costs for her medical and dental expenses and her education.
  • Owen Wilson — Pays $25,000 a month for daughter Lyla's support.
  • Brendan Fraser — Pays $900,000 a year in a combined alimony to ex-Afton Smith and child support for three children.
  • Kanye West — Pays ex-wife Kim Kardashian $200,000 a month in support for four children.
  • Alex Rodriguez — Was ordered to pay her $115,000 a month in combined child support and spousal support.
  • Sean ‘Diddy’ Combs — Pays $20,000 a month for one son, Christian.
  • Charlie Sheen — The actor was paying two women, Denise Richards and Brooke Mueller, for child support, estimated at $161,000 a month for four kids. The ladies accepted a reduction in 2016, so each now receives $40,000 per month.
  • Madonna —Material Girl allegedly paid ex-husband Guy Ritchie $15,000 a month for their son Rocco, who is now an adult.
  • Mel Gibson — Reportedly pays ex-wife Oksana Grigorieva $44,000 a month in support of one daughter.

The prize for the most exorbitant child support bill, on this list, at least, goes to Eddie Murphy, at $73,000 per month for one child. Costner’s temporary order places him in Mel Gibson territory, well below Murphy and just slightly ahead of Kanye. But are children really that expensive to maintain?

According to the Brookings Institution, an economic think tank, a middle-income family in America with two children “will spend $310,605 to raise a child born in 2015 up to age 17.” That’s an average of $18,270 per year per child. Affluent families will naturally spend more, but how much more is it even possible to spend on a child's basic needs?

The Brookings Institute broke down the major expenses into three categories: housing, food, and childcare, as follows:

  1. Housing — This category accounts for about 32 percent of the cost of raising a child. In Mr. Murphy’s case, that would mean his child’s mother could pay roughly $23,360 a month on a home mortgage. That would pay for a home valued at $4,108,784, according to TheMortgageReports.com. Given the price of real estate in the Los Angeles area, one could argue this is barely adequate for the child of a movie star. But a quick search of homes.com showed that $4 to $5 million could purchase an upscale two-to-five-bedroom home in the Beverly Hills area. That’s not too shabby. Mel B might think her child deserves a bit more, and thus might put a higher percentage of support towards pricier real estate.
  2. Food — Brookings tells us that food represents 27 percent of the cost of raising a child, which means that Mr. Murphy’s child would have a monthly budget of $19,700 for groceries. Breaking that down for a 30-day month, that’s $657 a day for food. What could the child possibly eat to run up that kind of tab? The most expensive meat in the world is Japanese Wagyu beef, which can run as high as $300 a pound. Mr. Murphy’s child could consume two pounds a day and still have $57 left for fruits and vegetables.
  3. Childcare — Brookings says that parents spend from 12 to 29 percent of their budget on childcare. This might add significant cost, but childcare is often treated as an additional expense, over and above what the court calls “child support.” Without greater details, we can’t know if Mr. Murphy is paying for childcare on top of the $73,000 a month. We do know that in Mr. Costner’s case, childcare was among the additional expenses he was ordered to share with Ms. Baumgartner.

Of course, there are other basic expenses that can run quite high for parents who want to give their kids the best: clothing, toys, lessons, and musical instruments. Tuition for the best prep schools in New York City can run upwards of $80,000 a year, and the best summer camps in the country cost $15,000 to $20,000 for seven weeks, and if your musical prodigy can play nothing short of a Steinway grand, that instrument can run from $60,000 to $160,000. Throw in a couple of vacations a year at exclusive locations, and these costs do add up. (Here again, we have to mention that private school tuition is often an additional expense on top of the child support order.)

So where does all this money go? The law says the recipient parent must spend child support funds on the child’s needs….


Karen Rosenthal

Karen B. Rosenthal is a partner and co-founder at matrimonial litigation firm Bikel Rosenthal & Schanfield LLP, where she brings 30 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, and New York magazine.

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