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Divorce Court May Award Percentage of Parent’s Future Bonuses as Child Support and Spousal Support Payments

After a divorce proceeding, father, Clyde W. Ostler appeals the order awarding mother, Victoria Smith spousal and child support. The couple had four children during their twenty-one year marriage, with two children being minors at the time of the dissolution. Mother was awarded physical child custody of the two minor sons, and father was awarded a reasonable schedule of visitation. In determining the child support order, the divorce court considered father’s total income consisting of both his annual salary and his annual bonus. The divorce court found father’s gross salary to be $13,750 per month, plus $1,542 a month from dividends, which amounted to $10,686 per month excluding his annual bonus. Mother had no source of income and the divorce court determined that mother and minor children required $5,859 per month to meet their needs.

The divorce court decided that in addition to father’s recurring income it would allocate a portion of future bonus income for support purposes so that if the monetary amount of the bonus were to change, future litigation would be unnecessary. Thus, the divorce court ordered father to pay mother a total of $5,900 per month, allocating $3,000 to spousal support and $2,900 for child support and an amount equal to 15% of his annual gross cash bonus and 10% of his cash bonus for each child as child support – until the children became 19 or finished high school. Further, the divorce court ordered an automatic “step-down” that all spousal support would be reduced to $1 per year, in three years, unless mother showed good cause that she has made efforts to be self-supporting. Father’s divorce attorney appealed the divorce court’s decision to award mother a percentage of father’s annual bonus.

Father’s divorce lawyer argued that the divorce court abused its discretion by ordering he pay 35% of his bonus for spousal and child support purposes. On appeal the Court agreed with mother’s divorce lawyer and held that the divorce court did not abuse its discretion in awarding father’s future bonus amount as child and spousal support. The court explained that there was sufficient evidence for the divorce court to find that the mother had demonstrated need and nothing prevented the court from correctly awarding mother a percentage of father’s future bonus.

In re Marriage of Ostler & Smith (1990) 223 Cal. App. 3d 33