To The Manor Born? Child Support, Money Magic

This was too juicy to pass up. Apparently 46-year old supermodel Linda Evangelista is asking for $46,000/month in child support from the father of her 4-year old son.

Who is dear old dad?

None other than François-Henri Pinault, the current (billionaire) French hubby of the ravishing Salma Hayek, with whom he also has a 4-year old child.

I first found out about this news item while cruising the Roundup at Circle of Moms, and I followed this tantalizing true tale on the Wall Street Journal’s Speakeasy blog. I strongly suggest you read the WSJ piece. It’s brief, informative, and frankly – funny.

So just exactly why is this too good to pass up – whether you’re single or married, man or woman, live in New York (like Ms. Evangelista and her son) – or anywhere else?

For one thing, the WSJ headline offers a common misunderstanding about child support and its usage. Its title reads:

How does a four-year-old spend $46,000 a month?

What Is Child Support To Be Used For?

Very catchy, but child support is not about the child spending anything. Child support is money given to the custodial parent in order to cover necessities to support the child, including:

  • food
  • housing
  • related housing expenses
  • transportation
  • education
  • doctors, dentists, other health care
  • childcare (daycare/sitters)
  • clothing

In other words, the basics of raising a child – to be provided one way or another, by one or both parents, or some other adult.

Many have misconceptions about how this money is to be used, and some insist it should be given to the child – and not the custodial parent.

Right.

Because a 6-year old or 10-year old or 14-year old knows how to pay bills in a household. Because that same kid can assess childcare options and medical procedures and the cost benefit of braces versus summer camp.

Oh, that’s not what you mean?

You don’t think a 6-year old or 10-year old should make these decisions, but possibly a teenager should? A teen with his or her fine sense of proportion, judgment, and experience in the world?

After all, we know that a 14 or 15-year old can make smart choices relative to priorities, or anything else to do with a proper upbringing. Because a teenager will deem the $4,000 to $5,000 / year for car insurance to be more critical than mundane expenses like property taxes (that pay for public school) or homeowners insurance or possibly a tiny nest-egg to cover the costs of applying to college.

Because financial decisions are so easy for adults – not to mention taxes and budgeting – so why not hand over the money management to the kids and be done?

Kids Cost, But Then Again

Now let’s look at this (seemingly) gossipy news item from another angle. It’s dishy, isn’t it? This once-upon-a-time transitional triangle of Evangelista, Hayek, and Pinault?

Had Ms. Evangelista been the lady to land the luxury goods magnate in matrimonial bliss, how much might he be spending on their child? Does that have any relevance to what he ought to pay in child support? Or should we just scan the billions on the balance sheet and say yes $46,000/month and get over it?

I suppose you could ask the man or woman on the street and obtain opposing views. Maybe the New Yorkers would agree that a half million is needed for a nice life in Manhattan. Maybe the rest of us find that amount of money obscene – Papa Pinault’s ample accounts aside?

Maybe we should think about the fact that these are the support cases that get the attention, when millions of custodial parents are trying to scrape by on a few hundred dollars a month – if they can manage to collect it.

Might you wish to see a more thorough summary of the history of child support guidelines and its challenges – including clear positioning of its problems in consistent application? How often does a non-custodial parent fork over more in a car payment each month than in support for his own son or daughter?

Then again, I doubt Monsieur Pinault has a $46,000/month car payment.

Do The Math

Hey – I know we’re still in a recession (no matter what we call it). And parenting is expensive! I’ve been quoting the gnarly numbers for the past few months, and that figure runs in the vicinity of  $227,000 per child, from birth to 18 – and not counting college. And I have my doubts about the reliability of that statistic.

But a request for $46,000/month – to live anywhere – as necessary to providing for a child?

When we do the math on the $227,000 figure (for us average folk) -  that’s roughly $12,500 per year, per child. In other words, about $1,000/month, per child.

Whether that amount is accurate or sufficient depends on where you live and how you live. It depends on whether or not there are two parents in the picture, income and expenses of each, with basic health care and child care as primary factors. And keep in mind that just because a parent is holding a job does not mean he or she is receiving benefits; independent workers are not eligible for unemployment and they don’t receive medical/dental/vision, much less disability, minimal life insurance, or anything resembling a retirement plan.

And by way of example, the cost of purchasing medical insurance on your own is a function of age – $200/month for the healthy 35-year old may be $700/month for the healthy 50-year old. And that’s not counting the kids!

But who can afford health care without some sort of insurance? How many can afford it with insurance?

But $46,000/month? Forty-six times the “average” figure? That’s over $500,000/year for a 4-year old. I’m guessing Ms. Evangelista might want more when he hits first grade, or middle school, and last I read, she was still modeling and making a nice living.

Sexy Celebs, Sensational Stories

Sure, New York City is expensive.

Sure, with a billionaire papa, you could say half a mil a year is small potatoes.

But what does any of this say about our priorities? Our land of money magic to cure all ills? What does it say about our family courts and how they are inured to the plight of middle and lower income Americans because star-struck sensationalism gets the spotlight? What does it say about any individual who thinks this is reasonable – to the manor born or otherwise?

Naturally, we’re drawn to this story for its excesses and sensationalism – not only the striking sum requested, but the fact that Evangelista only recently revealed Pinault as the father. Arguably, we’re dealing with one of the world’s most gorgeous and sexy women (Hayek), and quite possibly, two. And then there’s the fact that Daddy Dearest impregnated both women in the same year.

So we read about the beautiful people.

We roll our eyes and  we shake our heads.

The men make snide remarks about money-grubbing women, the women mutter about irresponsible men, and we all lose any sense of proportion relative to values and value, common sense and sensibility, and the real issue – what it takes to raise a child. And that’s two parents if possible – both respectful and responsible about their parenting duties – preferably with their presence, and yes, with their finances.

Shame On Us

Parenting isn’t about money; we know that. And the experience itself? For most of us – priceless.

But parenting requires money. More than we realize.

$1,000 / month to raise a child, on average?

That certainly isn’t the case where I live. That certainly isn’t the case in any major city. And if you didn’t realize, state-specific support guidelines are all over the map, a function of the income of both parents, special circumstances (nicely amorphous), and judicial discretion.

Theoretically if the financial picture changes, support orders can be modified. But that may require an attorney, more months in court, and thousands of dollars which the custodial parent doesn’t have.

So then what?

Do the needs of the child change, or does the custodial parent take on a second job (if she can get one), relinquish a sitter (creating a latch-key kid), move into a tinier apartment in a less safe area, or do without any medical insurance for herself and her kids because she cannot afford it? And if she loses her one job, her two jobs – Ill ask again – then what?

And while you’re at it, ask yourself again if child support – such as it is – should be paid directly to the child.

Then again, we’re so entertained by these high profile cases, it’s a good diversion from whatever ails us, including broken trust in our institutions and the over-used phrase – “best interests of the child.”


© D A Wolf

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Comments

  1. *sigh*

    This is just one of those subjects where I have no wisdom or anything to offer to the conversation. We’re all doing our best to raise our children whether the father pays up or not. And even still, there are so many other things that you simply cannot put a price on. It’s tough for me to deem what’s fair to any of us… and most especially our children. It just seems imbalanced and misappropriated much of the time anyway.

    • BigLittleWolf says:

      I hear what you’re saying, T. And I agree – except – if we accept that we cannot change things, we change nothing. If we accept our broken systems (and values), it will only get worse. I don’t believe it’s easy – or even possible – for one to easily assess what another “owes” or ought to do. Then again, that’s what we have a judicial system for – theoretically to do just that – and justly.

  2. I will speak from personal experience. For the past 10 yrs., I have received $1300/mo. in child support to assist in the care and raising of my two children. That support was based on the Texas custodial guidelines of the non-custodial parent having to pay 20% of up to $60k/yr. + 5% for each additional child up to $60k/yr. That monetary amount was based on those standards and no extra consideration was given by my ex. He was earning considerably more than this salary minimum at the time, has experienced raises over time that have nearly doubled that salary minimum amount, but has also experienced loss of work and having to take in recent times jobs that have put him close, but not quite that low, to that salary minimum.

    My children were 7 and 4 yrs. of age at the time of our divorce. In Texas, I could take him back to court every year for an increase. Given the economy and the fact that he makes substantially more than I do and the fact that the kids only spend 5% (maximum) per year of their time with him, I think I would easily be granted those increases. However, I have never had the disposable income available to take him back to court for these increases.

    Many people have suggested I ask a relative or friend to borrow from to take him to court…there is always the assumption that there is someone in my life who is better off than I am. Why is that? And, sorry, it isn’t their battle to fight. I have been extremely lucky in that my family and friends have been very generous with their time and resources in helping along the way; but, to ask them to cough up those resources on the spot, is impossible for me to ask of them on many levels.

    I spend much more of my low salary to take care of my children. I do it willingly and lovingly. They are my kids. I think it is ridiculous when I hear of famous people and their excessive needs. $46,000/mo.!!!! That isn’t even my salary per year!!! And, I am taking care of myself and two children on that amount (which isn’t the actual take home amount).

    Maybe Ms. Evangelista feels that her child would naturally be living a lavish lifestyle if she and baby daddy were actually a married couple. That may be true but that isn’t the situation. Why does her child need that much? Is it for childcare? Is it because her child is in need of protection from something? Or, is this a gouging over ego and the fact that the other woman has what she wishes she had?

    • BigLittleWolf says:

      Tina, Thank you for sharing this with us – including the fact that people are incorrect in assuming that those who need modification of support are in a financial position to pay the attorneys and court costs to get it (not to mention the time away from kids and work). And, equally, the assumption that there is someone else around – family, friends – who will step up to the plate to assist in their doing it.

      Those assumptions – I don’t have to tell you – are false.

      Perhaps what disturbs me most when I read this sort of “news” item is that it triggers my own disappointment in institutions that I once believed in, and notions of fairness – even based on each family’s circumstances, that I also used to (naively) believe in. The reality is vast discrepancies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, from judge to judge, and both men and women living with the consequences – and naturally – so are their children. As for the Uber-Rich, it’s not my world, I don’t claim to understand it, and I’m glad my children were raised in the “real” world – for better or worse.

  3. Pj Schott says:

    Hard to imagine.

  4. Expenses and lifestyle differ so much. It is complex, and I don’t want to be judgmental. I have three kids (now grown) and my additional expenses averaged less than 30% of my salary using constant dollars that equate to my maximum of $60,000 at retirement recently (Princeton Ph.D in the arts doesn’t translate to money in academics – but no serious complaints for my life’s work). We lived inexpensively – camping vacations and visiting with family. Opera in the nose-bleed seats (my folks did student rush). Perhaps partly as a result, one child is comfortable doing pure research (genetics)for modest pay (she could make a bundle working for “the dark side”) and another has a part-time day job that helps support his performing all over the country. The third – has a pool and more bathrooms than I could count – where did I go wrong to get such a “normal” one? :) She’s becoming the family matriarch, which is good. And they all still camp and enjoy group houses and the like (latter less so). We lived in the cheaper part of a town with a good public school system.
    Variety is the spice of life.

  5. p.s. It is complex. We were talking today with a young Burmese refugee that Fran has spent hundreds of hours mentoring. The family unit includes his mother and older sister. The family income is earned by the sister – about 20-25,000 a year. Fran saw him through his high school graduation this year, and he leaves to start Job Corp and a new life the middle of this month. A quite different perspective, but certainly not one that I would wish on anyone. In many ways they were better off as children in refugee camps in Cambodia than in the U.S. They can only hope that the U.S. will be better for their children and grandchildren, but even that is uncertain in these times.

  6. Greed is alive and well in this country. Not just the rich.

    My own experiences are with an absent father to my children, paying support only after years of court and paperwork and arguments. I learned to make it work without support which made things somewhat easier when it did arrive.

    However – call this the Libra in me – but I have seen both sides. Wives who cheat on their husbands, leave him for the other (sometimes richer) man, take him to court for all he has, abandon the children and live lavish lifestyles with the new man while the ex is fighting emotional and financial heartache while trying to explain to kids why mom left.

    Divorce is a nightmare no matter how you slice it. Greed makes it worse. Greed that is sometimes brought on by bitter ex’s who want ‘what they didn’t get in the marriage’.

    So glad, as you say, that my children grew up in the ‘real’ world. And that they were able to have a stable upbringing, with or without the check from a phantom father.

    • BigLittleWolf says:

      Like you, @notasoccermom, I see greed as the underlying current in this story – or one of them. Along with entitlement, and a host of other issues to do with our institutions and our culture. Human nature to want revenge of a sort? Probably a bit of that in the tale as well…

  7. I read this post while waiting in line at the bank… then got in the car and some timeless 60′s lyrics, “Time of the Season,” came tumbling out of the fluxing zeitgeist:

    What’s your name?
    Who’s your daddy?
    Is he rich like me?
    Has he taken any time
    to show you what you need to live?

    Googling made me smile to learn that it was written by Rod Argent

    …’til Zombie voices wake us and we drown

  8. One reads these numbers and the French Revolution becomes so much easier to understand.

    • BigLittleWolf says:

      Doesn’t it though? Just because the law allows certain things, doesn’t mean they’re right or necessary. But hey… just one woman’s opinion.

  9. I did guffaw when I read that story. I know he’s a billionaire, but c’mon…her monthly support request is my ENTIRE annual salary!!

    • BigLittleWolf says:

      Here’s the thing, Pauline… when you dig a little deeper, according to New York state law, she has a leg to stand on.

      But yes – most of us, the “normal folk,” look at her request and are blown away by the numbers. I shake my head… And think about the fact that these are the cases that get the attention, when the situation is so desperate for so many. Not just the “award” of child support, but the enforcement that may require money for more attorneys and more legal services that we can’t afford and thus, we can’t actually collect what is due.

      Hard to read about cases like this – whether or not they can be justified – and not look at all the families that can’t even enforce a few hundred dollars a month. Welcome to the world of spiraling into poverty, especially when “judicial discretion” kicks in, and assumptions are made about how easily a woman will be able to “get a job and be just fine.” then there’s the real world.

      And the real world is not Manhattan supermodels who “won’t get out of bed for less than $10,000/day.”

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