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Bar Association of San Francisco Member Benefits: Publications

Family Law Corner: Mad Mel?

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


The Mel Gibson and Oksana Grigorieva custody case has continued to dominate Hollywood headlines. Most recently, on September 30, a Los Angeles Superior Court judge ordered that Gibson’s child support will be increased from $5,000 per month to $20,000 per month.

The original amount of $5,000 per month was a default amount that Gibson and Grigorieva agreed to if she ever filed for child support.

Under the agreement that the parties reached in mediation, Grigorieva would receive $4,000 per month in child support, a house, $10,000 per year put into a college fund, and $50,000 per year into a trust fund for their daughter. The agreement also had the unusual provision that if Grigorieva ever requested child support through the court, she would only receive $5,000 per month. It was this amount that she was receiving until the September 30 order was made.

In making the most recent order, the family court judge was faced with the unusual situation of a parent with an “extraordinarily high income.” Child support is usually determined based on the incomes of both parents, their tax deductions, and their timeshare with the child—this is called the “guideline calculation.” If someone’s income is so high that the guideline calculation would result in a child support amount of thousands of dollars per month, the court has the ability to order an off-guideline amount.

Family Code §4057 (b)(3) states the presumed child support award may be rebutted by admissible evidence showing that the parent being ordered to pay child support has an extraordinarily high income and the amount determined under the formula would exceed the monthly needs of the child. Nevertheless, the court must at least make an approximation of the amount at which the child support would exceed the child’s needs (and thus the point at which a parent’s income becomes extraordinarily high).

However, in another celebrity custody case involving Emilio Estevez, the Court of Appeals held that when a child support payer will agree that he can and will pay “any reasonable amount of child support,” the court need not calculate the guideline amount and there is no further need for discovery on the high earner’s income. Estevez v. Salley, 22 Cal.App.4th 423 (1994).

Given Gibson’s reported net worth of close to a billion dollars, and given his pending divorce case with his wife, it may well be that Gibson agreed to any reasonable amount for the time being. Since the custody case is still in progress, it is also likely that support will change again with any change in the custodial timeshare.


Ariel Sosna and Sarah Van Voorhis are founding partners of Van Voorhis & Sosna.

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