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There is a Limitation on Discovery Where a Parent Stipulates to their Ability to Pay the Child Support Order

Emilio Estevez and Carey Salley had two minor children. Estevez, the father, stipulated to paternity and agreed to pay the mother $3,500 per month in child support payments. Further, Estevez, through his divorce lawyer, agreed to pay for a medical insurance policy, and any additional medical, hospital, and dental expenses. Also, he voluntarily provided childcare, a housekeeper, vacations, food, transportation, private school, and a Malibu house. The estimated value of the total package amounted to above $14,000 per month. Salley was not dissatisfied with the package, rather she was dissatisfied with the manner in which the package was dispensed because it was not guaranteed and her divorce lawyer sought modification of the child support order to receive payments that complied with the child support guidelines.

Salley’s divorce lawyer requested support based on the guideline so that she could rent a home, structure her own finances, and pursue her own acting career. Her divorce attorney requested that Estevez be required to provide enough support so that the children could continue living at their current standard of living. Mother’s divorce lawyer also requested bank records and other documents relating to father’s accounts to prove his disposable income. Father, through his divorce attorney, stipulated that he had not made less than $1.4 million during the years of 1990, 1991, 1992 and would pay any reasonable amount the divorce court determined necessary for the support of his two minor children.

Estevez’s divorce lawyer asserted that he was an extraordinarily high earner and any calculation under the guideline formula would far exceed the needs of the children. His divorce attorney urged the divorce court to find that discovery sought by mother, for his financial documents, was precluded and shouldn’t be allowed because he was willing to pay any reasonable amount. Salley’s divorce lawyer argued that the divorce court must first determine the guideline amount of child support owed by calculating father’s disposable income and then determine if an exception should be made. The divorce court reluctantly agreed with mother’s divorce attorney, but decided that the total amount of documents mother was requesting was unduly burdensome and only ordered the discovery of certain financial statements.

On appeal, the court determined that where there is no question of the non-custodial parent’s ability to pay a child support order, any evidence of a parent’s detailed lifestyle is irrelevant in determining the amount of support to be paid.  Consequently, the financial information is protected from discovery. The court found in favor of father’s divorce lawyer and stated that the divorce court may make assumptions concerning the father’s disposable income and the father is not required to produce discovery of his financial affairs because it would be unduly burdensome to do so. Therefore there is a limitation on discovery if a parent stipulates to their ability to pay any reasonable child support order.

Estevez v. Superior Court (1994) 22 Cal. App. 4th 423