Kelly Clarkson filed for a divorce from her husband Brandon Blackstock in June of this year. The couple share two young children. Their separation has been far from simple. Blackstock has reportedly claimed US$301,000 ($426,000) in spousal support and US$135,000 ($191,000) in child support per month.
Spousal maintenance and child support are commonly applied for and granted in New Zealand. However, it is uncommon to see a claim for such significant monthly sums.
What is spousal support?
Spousal maintenance is ongoing financial support provided by one spouse to the other when a relationship ends. It is available to help a party who cannot meet their own reasonable needs. Usually, the largest component of a claim spousal maintenance is to cover legal, accounting and other professional fees.
If Brandon is wealthy, why does he need financial support?
Brandon has had success in his career as a music manager. He acted as Kelly's manager and an executive producer on her talk show. However, spousal maintenance is assessed based on a party's "reasonable needs".
Those reasonable needs are not based on essential things such as food or shelter. It is based on the standard of living enjoyed by the parties while they were married. As Kelly has enjoyed massive success in her career as a singer and TV personality, the couple probably enjoyed a very high standard of living.
If Brandon can no longer afford to live at that standard, spousal maintenance will allow Brandon time to adjust to his new lifestyle.
How long would he get spousal maintenance?
In New Zealand, spousal maintenance is intended to be temporary. It is very common for a party to be granted spousal maintenance while the parties are dividing their relationship property. However, it can continue after the end of the marriage if the party cannot meet their own reasonable needs.
If Brandon was granted spousal maintenance in New Zealand, it is expected that he must assume responsibility for his own needs within a reasonable time. There is no bright-line test for how long is reasonable.
In New Zealand, spousal maintenance obligations end if the other party enters into a new de facto relationship, marriage or civil union.
Would he get $426,000 per month?
Spousal maintenance depends on a range of factors. In granting an order, the Court will consider:
• The income and assets of each spouse, including their potential earning capacity and any assets acquired from the division of their relationship property;
• The reasonable needs of each party;
• Whether the spouse ordered to pay maintenance is supporting any other person;
• The financial or other responsibilities of each spouse; and
• Any other relevant circumstances.
It is possible a New Zealand court could award Brandon with spousal maintenance of almost half a million dollars if it considered it appropriate in light of those factors.
Does it have to be ordered by the Court?
No. After a separation or divorce, the parties can come to a voluntary agreement. In New Zealand, Kelly and Brandon could privately agree on their own arrangement.
Child support is routinely applied for and granted in New Zealand. It is generally for a modest amount. It tends to be much smaller than an award of spousal maintenance.
Could Brandon make an order to the Court for child support?
Unlike in the US, if Kelly does not agree to pay Brandon child support, he would apply to the Inland Revenue Department rather than the Family Court. The IRD would assess how much Brandon could receive by using their child support formula.
Would Brandon get $191,000 per month in New Zealand?
It is doubtful. Child support can be determined either privately between the parties or by using the IRD's formula.
This formula considers both parents' incomes and living costs, the amount of time the child is in each parent's care, the cost of bringing up a child and the costs of other children in their care.
As with spousal maintenance, parties can reach a private agreement. This private arrangement typically is a sum reasonably similar to the IRD formula amount.
How long would he receive child support?
In New Zealand, child support is usually payable until the child turns 18.
Can Brandon still get child support if they share the care of the children?
Yes. In New Zealand, if Kelly and Brandon shared the children 50/50, he could still receive payment for child support as Kelly earns a higher income than him. This often surprises people as they assume neither parent has to pay child support if they share care equally.
However, the purpose of child support is to maintain some stability for the children. One parent may earn significantly more than the other. In that case, a child support payment ensures the lower-income parent can continue to provide for the children at a closer standard to the other parent than would otherwise be possible.
What if Brandon only has the children at weekends?
Under New Zealand law, a parent is entitled to receive child support if they provide ongoing daily care for at least 35 per cent of the time. That equates to about five nights per fortnight or 128 nights per year.
If Brandon cares for the children for less than 35 per cent of the time, he would not be entitled to child support.
When celebrities and other public figures divorce in the US, it is typical for all the details of their court proceedings to be widely published. Thankfully, this does not occur as commonly in New Zealand. Family Court proceedings are closed to the public. However, news media can report on proceedings if they comply with reporting restrictions.
These reporting restrictions are designed to protect vulnerable participants, such as children. They tend to deter media from broadcasting details of the couple's separation.
If Kelly Clarkson and Brandon Blackstock were separating in New Zealand, Brandon could apply to the Family Court for spousal maintenance. It is possible he could be awarded such a significant monthly sum if the Court was satisfied, he could not meet his reasonable needs.
Brandon could also be entitled to child support if he cared for the children at least 35 per cent of the time. He would need to apply to the IRD for this, rather than the Family Court. If calculated under the IRD's formula, Brandon would receive significantly less than $191,000.
• Jeremy Sutton is a senior family lawyer, specialising in divorce cases where there are significant assets, including family trusts and complex business structures.