Smith v. Smith
67 P.3d 351 (OK Civ App 2002)

Facts:

  • The parties divorced in 1988, and the decree awarded custody to Mother, granted visitation to Father, and ordered Father to pay $460 per month as child support.
  • Mother sought an increase in child support payments from Father based on changes in the parties’ incomes as well as the expenses of the minor child.
  • Father’s monthly income was $46,015and Mother’s monthly income as $6,419. Accordingly, the combined gross monthly income of the parties was $52,434.

History:

  • The trial court increased Father’s child support obligation from $460 per month to $4,300 per month.
    • The guidelines in effect at the time provided for the total monthly child support for one child of parents with combined monthly income of $15,000 to be $1,372, which is 9.15% of $15,000.
    • Thus, the court simply multiplied the $52,434 by 9.15% to calculate that the child support amount would be $4,797 under the guidelines, taking into consideration Father’s 88% share.
  • Father appealed, arguing that the trial court erred in modifying child support to an amount above the “statutory cap.”

Issue:
Method of calculating child support for income amounts beyond the support guidelines chart.

Holding:
Award modified.

Reasoning:

  • “Three Pony Rule:” As the parents’ combined gross income increases, the proportion of that income which is designated for child support decreases, and this is due in part to the fact that a child’s needs, both essential and lifestyle-related, do not inherently increase regardless of the amount of income.
    • No child needs three ponies, no matter how rich the parents are!
  • Method of calculating child support for income amounts beyond the support guidelines chart is to consider the decreasing percentage of income for each bracket as income rises, and this would recognize that, at some point, child support for each additional $1000 in income approaches zero.
    • A child’s reasonable living expenses could justify a support award in excess of an extrapolation for income exceeding the guidelines.
  • Here, Mother alleged that child’s monthly expenses totaled $3,355.90. Thus, it was an abuse of the trial court’s discretion to order ex-husband to pay $4,300 per month in child support when this amount was greater than the liberal amount of expenses asserted by Mother.
  • The court then modified the award to $2,953.19 per month (88% of the child’s expenses).