After trial, the Court ordered Bruce Shandler to pay to his former wife, Lana Shandler, child support of $3,000.00 per month. Bruce was also ordered to deposit $4,000.00 per month to a trust account for certain child related expenses. Bruce’s monthly income at the time of trial was $117,000.00. Lana had a college degree and had worked prior to marriage, earning $25,000.00 per year. At the time of trial she was receiving $1,400.00 per month in temporary spousal support.
Lana appealed the portion of the Order requiring payment into a trust. The parties agreed Mr. Shandler’s income was extraordinary income and that a child support award of $7,000.00 was valid under the circumstances. The Court of Appeal concluded the trial court’s unilateral decision to create a trust constituted an abuse of discretion, and stated:
“We doubt it is ever appropriate to employ a trust when ordering a parent to pay child support, particularly one which, in part, places the custodial parent under the fiscal control of the supporting parent.”
The Court further found that the monthly child support order of $3,000.00 standing alone would be an abuse of discretion. The reasonable needs of a child varies with the parties’ circumstances, and the duty to support covers more than mere essentials of life, if the parents can afford to pay more. The Court found the trust to be a ruse for husband to control wife’s spending and stated:
“The law does not provide for such control. Once the Court determines the appropriate amount of child support, the supporting parent has no right to determine whether these funds are used to buy groceries, pay rent, or for music lessons.”
The Court did state it recognized that statewide Uniform Child Support Guidelines have been criticized as creating harsh and inflexible schemes which invariably cause hardship and inequity. The Court, however, properly stated the wisdom of the guidelines is a matter for the government’s legislative branch to decide.
The Court noted in the Shandler case the $7,000.00 per month figure represented less than six percent (6%) of Bruce’s gross income. However, if all facts were the same, except were Bruce’s gross income $4,000.00 per month, child support would represent sixteen percent (16%) of Bruce’s gross income.
Justice Soneshine, a very respected jurist in the family law arena, stated: “Will the time ever come when our judiciary comprehends family law is not a separate and distinct category over which judge’s may impose their own concepts and value judgments?” Certainly the pronouncements of the trial judge and our dissenting colleague are not encouraging. Simply stated, Judges in making their decisions must follow the law. This is true whether the applicable statute falls within the Family Code or the Penal Code or whether we agree the statute represents good public policy.”