The news here is that Halle Berry was ordered by a judge to pay Gabriel Aubrey $16,000 a month in child support until daughter Nahla turns 19 or graduates from high school. But that is not the story.
This public sharing of a long-going celebrity relationship wrangle includes a break-up that happened four years ago, a two-year old initial custody agreement, an ensuing court struggle, back pay of $115,000 - oh! and the fist-fight and charges pressed following a fight between Aubrey and Berry's now-husband Olivier Martinez. It is all covered liberally by magazines and websites because the mother is an Oscar-winning actress, an A-lister who has been married multiple times, who is beautiful and involved with beautiful men and who, at 46, gave birth beautifully to Nahla's sibling.
But the story of child support, how it is awarded and received and shared, is much bigger and more complex. For many of us who either receive or pay out child support, there is so much emotion involved, there's no way we could flip past the story like we would this news in a People magazine.
To many readers of the Berry-Aubrey settlement, that $16,000 monthly support would cause a gasp, or at least a pause. That's nearly $200K a year. A salary. A very, very comfortable salary. I obviously don't know the financial details of the business of being Halle Berry, but I'm imagining this amount won't alter her lifestyle or wrinkle her well-being. And who knows what the negotiations were and are, how it is all justified? Perhaps this monthly check is written with a sigh of relief to minimize Aubrey's involvement or leaking of private information or insurance that the dad has plenty of resources to keep Nahla in the circles and activities and life she leads in her other home. I don't know. We never will. We never should.
Sixteen thousand a month is an unfathomable amount of financial contribution to most of the nation's single parents. many of whom deal in hundreds, if they get it on time or ever or choose to collect at all.
I know because I am one of those single mothers. Child support has been an energy-drainer, legal strife and emotional migraine for me for nearly seven years. And even after going to court multiple times to pursue payments far, far smaller than Aubrey may have ever been handed in cash, I get that child support will always be this complicated and unhinging in the legal system where I am and within the parenting agreement I have.
The cost of child support, at least for me, is high. But I keep at it because I believe that it is important for both parents (at least in our situation) to contribute to the fiscal responsibility of raising a child. Whether that is in tens of dollars or millions, the principal of participating in parenting in this way and on a regular basis is on the big checklist that includes getting your child to school and doctor appointments and tending to their safety.
I don't want to go to court over hundreds of dollars. But I have. Several years ago, I spent three times the amount of back support I was owed in legal fees to pursue the money in court. And in the end, I compromised and took a lowered payment just to be done with the whole damn thing. The process was hard and felt endless and took a great deal of time and energy. I don't want to do that again. But I would, and I probably will. Why? Because the moment I let that go is the moment all financial responsibility from the other parent grinds to a halt. And I just can't have that - in principal.
Practically, the child support in my situation covers very little. We've arranged an activities-fee share that does help with big commitments, like sports and camp and medical bills. But the actual support payment contributes to a very small percentage of basic living expenses. Still, if the amount came without question or argument or chasing, that would change a lot, and not just for me. It would not only be easier, it would be far less tense, emotional and amped up. It would just be the cost of raising a kid, together or apart. That's not the case, at least in my case.
That is our situation, the legalities and formulas in our state. It is just the deal. But it is not the whole, big picture.
That story is long and sad and maddening and began long before divorce, before a child was born, before we even met. It is a story for (several) glasses of wine with a single mom who gets it. For plenty of therapy sessions. For the confines of my living room or close relationships. How someone handles the way they raise their child financially, no matter how much income they make or support they receive or give, is packed full of text - from our childhood, our circumstances, our race and gender and other systemic oppressors, our health, our choices, our relationship dynamics, our parents. There is so much in there. So much more than numbers.
This is what I thought of after the initial wide-eyed read of the Berry-Aubrey $16,000 settlement. There is much more here than a fat check on the first of the month.
And this is what I think every time I breathe a sigh of relief to see a paycheck-garnished direct deposit alert chime on my cell phone. There is so much more here than money.
When that payment does come in, I am just glad I don't have to deal with it all, with the whole damn story, just the number. For that moment, just the number, no matter how big or small.
I wonder if Halle Berry, in all her privilege, feels the same about this final settlement years later - happy to just focus on the number monthly and not all the other pages and pages of and document after document and year after year. I wonder, in all fairness, if Aubrey is in that place, too.
I know and have read about many single mothers who wish for the problem of chasing child support and manage without it on meager (and sometimes, desperate incomes). I've known women who've happily declined any financial involvement from a child's other parent because it is worth it to give up dealing with that person on one more matter, or at all. I've heard far too complaints from people who pay child support about paying child support, and had too many conversations with people on the other side who are falling apart or don't manage the money well or can't find help for filing or are angry at the amount. It is all a mess, a big mess.
So what can the people who have worked out a fair and responsible support agreement teach us? I'd like to know. And what can we learn from those people who've walked away from the money? Or who don't use it for actually raising the child? Or who end up in jail or without a drivers license or wracked with shame or ramped up indignantly because they ignore their financial duty to their kids? I'd like those lessons spelled out as well.
There are stories there, and things to be learned, whether the saga appalls or inspires us or helps us get our bank accounts and priorities and choices in order. And the stories, if and when we are willing and legally able to both share and listen, privately or publicly, are worth far more than years and years of Halle Berry dollars.