While our legal system certainly has its flaws, the fact that court cases are public allows us a fascinating glimpse into the lives of others. Few cases allow you to be a fly on the wall like a divorce case. Those who are uber-wealthy are certainly entitled to spend their money as they choose, but when these super rich couples divorce, determining child support gets complicated. What may seem like absurd financial demands to those of us who don’t live in mansions aren’t always unreasonable under the law.
Kenneth Griffin, CEO and manager of the hedge fund Citadel, is worth billions. CNN reports that he and his wife, Anne Dias Griffin are in the midst of a divorce. The couple has been married since 2003 and has three children under the age of ten. Mrs. Griffin disclosed her monthly budget to the court so child support orders can be made.
In the state of Illinois, where the Griffins reside, the court awards child support to maintain the standard of living the children would have enjoyed had their parents not divorced.
According to CNN, Mrs. Griffin filed documents claiming the family’s standard of living includes $14,000 per month for groceries and eating out, $160,000 per month for vacation accommodations, $300,000 a month for a private jet, $2000 a month for stationery, and $60,000 per month for an office space and professional staff. The couple has four nannies for their three children, but I would hope salary for the nannies is included under “professional staff” expenses.
Representatives for Mr. Griffin claim his wife is trying to maintain her lavish lifestyle by making her own expense appear as child support while representatives for Mrs. Griffin claim her financial documents only outline what the couple has historically spent on things as a family.
Once upon a time, I was a practicing divorce attorney. While I’m not barred in Illinois or familiar with their laws, and I don’t represent either of the parties in this action, I have worked on cases where the clients had significant financial assets, so I know that it’s not uncommon to wealthy couple to claim significant expenses in their financial filings.
Some of Mrs. Griffin’s budget claims aren’t that outlandish given the circumstances — if you think about what a family with that level of wealth spends on vacations each year and divide it by twelve to average what they spent on hotels each month, $160,000 suddenly doesn’t look such a big number. But $2000 a month on stationary seems ridiculous no matter how wealthy you are. Don’t these children have iPads?
While I believe the court’s goal of wanting children of divorce to maintain their lives as they would have had their parents not separated is a noble one, I also think it’s unrealistic. No matter how much money a family has, paying for two households on the same income that used to pay for just one household is going to call for adjustments to the standard of living. But when a family has this much money to go around, those adjustments should be slight. Just because the average person may think that Mrs. Griffin’s requests are unreasonable doesn’t mean they aren’t an accurate reflection of how her children have lived thus far.
Far too often I was involved in cases where there wasn’t enough money to go around, where parents weren’t sure how they would pay basic utilities and rent for two apartments once their divorce was finalized. Fortunately for the Griffin children, this won’t be a problem. They may lose some luxuries as a result of the divorce, but rest assured their basic needs will never be in question. I’m not saying Mrs. Griffin should have to fire her nannies or start using a composition notebook for her correspondence, but flying first class instead of by private jet could be in this family’s future.