Looks like Steve Nash is going to have to pay child support to his ex-wife, after all.
A ruling today by the Arizona Court of Appeals erases a Maricopa County Superior Court judge's finding on what the NBA star should pay in child support to ex-wife Alejandra Amarilla, opening the door for a substantial monthly payment.
The Appeals Court upheld, however, a stipulation by the lower court that neither Nash nor his ex-wife were allowed to post disparaging comments about each other on the Internet.
Nash, who left the Phoenix Suns in 2012 for the Los Angeles Lakers, has been waging a bitter court battle against his ex-wife since announcing they had split in 2010, a day after the birth of their third child, a boy. The couple also have twin girls.
Nash's attorney revealed an e-mail by Amarilla in a May court hearing that showed she hoped to move to California so the kids, who still lived in Arizona with their mom, could be nearer to Nash -- and so she could petition a California court to make Nash pay child support. Media reports state that Amarilla was paid $5 million by Nash previously in the divorce.
The three-judge appeals court panel (Diane Johnsen, Samuel Thumma, and Michael Brown) ruled today that a decree by the lower court that let Nash off the hook for child support was a mistake. The lower court failed to properly consider both basic guidelines for determining child support and a legitimate request by Amarilla for an "upward deviation" of the basic amount.
The case will now go back to the Superior Court for determination of those factors, meaning Nash likely will end up paying a higher monthly amount for the kids' care than he thought.
Basic guidelines should have meant that each parent's income should have been calculated, and an amount set that reflected a proportion of those incomes, the ruling states. Instead, the lower court's decree states that Nash should keep paying only for the insurance and education expenses.
The other problem with the lower court's ruling was that it required Amarilla -- who wanted $22,500 a month in child support -- to prove the higher-than-normal amount was in the kids' best interest in order to receive any "upward deviation" at all. The appeals court judges say that Amarilla only has to prove "some" extra cash is necessary.
And they spend a few pages backing up Amarilla's contention that she's probably right about the kids deserving more.
Where the lower court "concluded the presumptive amount satisfied the children's basic needs, it erred," the judges wrote. "In determining child support, the superior court must consider the reasonable needs of the children in light of the parents' resources."
In a case such as this, involving "significant wealth," the court should have given considerable regard" to a greater amount of support, the appeal ruling says.
Although the court rejected Amarilla's expert witness on finance matters, accountant Michael Miskei, saying he'd committed "numerous analytical flaws," other evidence revealed the parents' expenses in Arizona and elsewhere.
The ruling then gets into some interesting personal business of the former couple and their jet-set lifestyle.
The judges stated:
While travel expenses were a point of contention, Father did not dispute that the children should continue to enjoy regular extensive international travel, including regular visits with their maternal relatives in South America and Australia; and other travel, including ski vacations; the dispute was only about the nature and style of that travel.
Although the family may have spared few expenses in the manner in which it traveled during the marriage, Mother testified that coach airplane tickets to South America are $1,500 apiece. The superior court seemed to accept that the children should be able to continue to travel extensively, noting "the Court understood Father's objection to be the manner of travel . . . not the destination."
In spite of this finding and the other evidence in the record, however, the court apparently did not consider the family's demonstrated travel, entertainment and housing expenses in determining whether to grant an upward deviation in child support.
However, the appeals court judges noted, they're not saying the kids have the right to a "dollar-for-dollar" match of spending habits when the couple were still married. They provide a colorful quote from a 1996 court case in which a judge ruled "no child, no matter how wealthy the parents, needs to be provided more than three ponies."
Also, the fact that Amarilla may have access to a healthy pile of cash and can afford to maintain a high-level lifestyle for the kids doesn't prevent Nash -- whose "wealth may significantly exceed Mother's -- from being forced to fork over his fair share.
The new ruling upholds the lower court's prohibition on the former couple making disparaging comments about each other that could get back to their kid, a point on which the parents originally agreed in joint-custody paperwork.
The day the lower court's decree came out, Amarilla tweeted "biting criticism of Father's integrity," the ruling states. Because the duration of such social media posts is "indefinite," it may be viewed at some point by the children, and therefore runs counter to the custody agreement. However, Amarilla isn't prohibited from distributing court records that are considered public records, the judges stated.
Martz Agency, the PR firm for Amarilla and her lawyer, Angela Hallier, provided the following statement from Amarilla Nash:
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"The decision is satisfying because it appears to require that in making child support orders, the courts in Arizona should attempt to minimize economic disruption in the lives of the children of divorcing parents . . . This has been a long and difficult process and I'm relieved that this phase of it has been resolved."
Angela Hallier, managing partner of Hallier & Lawrence PLC and attorney for Amarilla Nash, said in a statement, "This ruling is consistent with the principles underlying the Arizona child support guidelines, and with many other states that have addressed this issue. I am proud of Alejandra for pursuing this just decision for her children and children in Arizona."
Hallier's PR firm's statement goes on to say: "With regard to the gag order, Hallier and Amarilla Nash are able to finally discuss the rulings and clear up any misconceptions. They were previously not permitted to do so under what the appeals court has now found to be an unconstitutional gag order entered by the trial court."