22 Jun Kentucky Supreme Court Calls Foul on Three Pony Rule
A recent decision by the Commonwealth’s Supreme Court is sure to tip off change in Kentucky child support case law after the Three Pony Rule’s dominance in the courts over the past two decades. In their opinion rendered May 5, 2016, the Supremes order Denver Nuggets power forward Kenneth Faried to pay $4250 per month in child support to his daughter’s mother, Rebekah McCarty, of Bath County. This reversal of the Appeals Court’s earlier decision to vacate that child support order marks a major upset of the Three Pony Rule — the idea that no matter how wealthy the parents, no child needs three ponies, or the child support necessary to provide similar extravagance — which has previously been the foundation used by Kentucky courts in determining support amounts where incomes far exceed those for which legal Guidelines have been set. Current Kentucky law follows Guideline charts in which incomes top out at $15,000 per month.
Faried’s attorneys found this apparent “share the wealth” approach to his NBA salary of over $1.4 million to be out-of-bounds, as had the Court of Appeals in the oft-cited case of Downing v. Downing, 45 S.W.3d 449 (Ky. App. 2001), in which our own John H. Helmers, Jr., represented the Mother. The Downing court established factors to be considered in determining child support above the Guidelines, finding that the amount must be based on the actual needs of the child rather than arbitrarily extrapolated based on the high income alone. The problem with this method of score-keeping is that it becomes unwinnable for the custodial parent — the parent can’t get money without demonstrating the expense, but they can’t spend and demonstrate the expense until they get the money. The Kentucky Supreme Court agreed and felt that McCarty had set out adequate details of her child’s reasonable needs to support the $4250 monthly amount.
Our hope is that this slam-dunk for the appellant doesn’t start a trend of misuse of child support funds by custodial parents. In family court, we at Helmers+Associates have advocated for the practice of funneling a portion of the amount to a trustee who is tasked with authorizing disbursement of the monies. This would ensure that child support is indeed spent in the child’s best interests, rather than being abused for the entertainment or indulgence of an irresponsible parent.
In the meantime, if you find yourself on either side of a similar situation, the key to victory in the courtroom will most certainly be detailed accounting and research on potential expenses, be they housing, extracurricular, or educational, in lieu of actual expense records. Keep in mind, however, that this case dealt with the initial establishment of child support. Had this been a matter of modifying an already-established support amount, a significant change of circumstance would have to be concretely demonstrated, to include the production of specific and accurate expense records. Of note also is that the Court made the order retroactive, in order to cover expenses supposed to have been reasonably incurred since the date the motion for child support was filed. These nuances of the law underscore the importance of securing highly competent counsel before pursuing any legal action on child support. John Helmers has a wealth of experience with child support issues. His writing on the topic has been published in various legal publications, and he has served as a legal education instructor and a keynote speaker on child support within and outside the Guidelines. If you have child support questions, please contact us at (502)581-0078.