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Bar Association of San Francisco Member Benefits: Publications

Family Law Corner: Come to My Window; Unless You’re My Ex-Domestic Partner and Want More Child/Partner Support


By Ariel Sosna and Sarah Van Voorhis, Van Voorhis & Sosna


Melissa Etheridge’s ex-registered domestic partner, actress Tammy Lynn Michaels (Popular, The L Word) is claiming that the $23,000 per month child support/partner support payment she receives isn’t paying the bills. In her settlement conference statement filed with the court, Michaels states that she would require “extensive retraining” if she were to successfully re-enter the workforce in order to become a “nurse or teacher.” She explains that during her nearly nine-year partnership she became accustomed to a monthly budget of $128,000 and that Etheridge now earns in excess of $178,000 per month.

Michaels mention of “retraining” is a direct reference to Family Code Section 4320, which provides the factors the court must consider in ordering spousal support, or in this case, partner support. Note that because of the Federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), unlike spousal support, partner support is not tax deductible to the payor, but is still taxable income to the payee, which makes for less income for both parties when support is being paid. One of the mandatory factors that the court must consider is “the marketable skills of the supported party; the job market for those skills; the time and expenses required for the supported party to acquire the appropriate education or training to develop those skills; and the possible need for retraining or education to acquire other, more marketable skills or employment.” Fam. Code 4320(a)(1).

In her personal blog, Michaels claims that she gave up a lucrative acting career to start a family with the rocker, at one time earning more than $20,000 a week on the show Popular saying “Grab a calculator, do the math, and one might see that I was financially doing PHENOMENALLY before I entered into a relationship where there was another person with money.” Michaels’ argument may be successful and the court could allow her time to seek job training or vocational rehabilitation, while maintaining or increasing Michael’s support in order to maintain the parties’ “marital standard of living.”

On the flip side, Etheridge may argue that pursuant to Family Code Section 4058 (b), the court should consider the “earning capacity” of Michaels in lieu of her actual income when making its order for support, especially if Michaels has not been seeking acting jobs.

Thus Michael’s braggadocio about her previous gigs may not have been the best strategic move for increasing her monthly support since it makes her appear more employable as an actress.


Sarah Van Voorhis, a Certified Family Law Specialist, and Ariel Sosna are founding partners of Van Voorhis & Sosna.

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