Strahan v. Strahan: Determining Reasonable Need When Net Income Exceeds The Child Support Guidelines

In New Jersey, our law provides that children of divorced parents are entitled to share in their parents financial good fortune. That philosophy, however, is not without limitation. In the case of Strahan v. Strahan (as in Michael Strahan, former professional football player with the New York Giants and now media star), the Appellate Division held when determining child support for the children of high-income families, courts must scrutinize the needs asserted by the custodial parent to be certain they are reasonable. In other words, no matter how wealthy one or both parents might be, there is a limit as to what shall be deemed appropriate for the purposes of child support.  

In the context of high-income parents whose ability to pay is not an issue, the dominant guideline for consideration is the reasonable needs of the children, which must be addressed in the context of the standard of living of the parties. The consideration of needs must include the age and health of the children, with the understanding that infants’ needs are less than those of teenagers, as well as any assets or income of the children. 

Determining a child’s “needs” in high-income earning families presents unique challenges. A balance must be struck between reasonable needs, which reflect lifestyle opportunities, while at the same time precluding an inappropriate windfall to the child or even in some cases infringing on the legitimate right of either parent to determine the appropriate lifestyle of a child. This latter consideration involves a careful balancing of interests reflecting that a child’s entitlement to share in a parent’s good fortune does not deprive either parent of the right to participate in the development of an appropriate value system for a child. 

Our courts attempt to balance “needs” consistent with lifestyle without complete overindulgence. In these circumstances, our courts implore that value by utilizing what is effectively known as the “Three Pony Rule,” i.e., no matter how wealthy the parents, needs to be provided more than three ponies (or any other similar overindulgence).

 While the law is not offended if there is some incidental benefit to the custodial parent from increased child support payments, the law is careful to ensure there is no overreaching by a custodial parent in the name of the child. The award of nonessential additions to child support requires a careful weighing and determination as to who is the primary and who is the incidental beneficiary of such support.  

If you have questions about child support or any other family law related issue, please contact our firm.  Ulrichsen Rosen & Freed LLC is focused exclusively on the practice of family law and serves clients throughout New Jersey including clients residing in Mercer County, Somerset County, Hunterdon County, Burlington County and Middlesex County.