Lessons from Bristol Palin/Levi Johnston Child Support Order

By Erica Christian


Cordell & Cordell, P.C.

Note: This is Part 2 of a two-part series. Click here to read Part 1.

In November, Bristol Palin filed a legal petition seeking sole custody of her and Levi Johnston’s minor child, Tripp, and $1,700 per month in child support. Reports indicate that Levi is ordered to pay Bristol $21,561.12 as backpay for support dating back to the date of birth.  Levi has a child support order going forward of $1,688.42 per month.

The 19-year-old father had a big year in 2009, filled with modeling and acting gigs and income generated from interviews and appearances.  He went from never making more than $10,000 per year to over $100,000 in 2009.

But are these earnings what the aspiring actor/model can expect to receive in 2010 and thereafter?

Now What?

If Levi’s income in 2010 is substantially similar to his earnings in 2009, then there isn’t much of concern.  He is paying support according to the guidelines.  But if his income substantially reduces to what he was earning prior 2009, then he has a problem.  In most states, a party can file a motion for modification of support based on a substantial change in circumstances.  If he earns substantially less, then he could file a motion to reduce support.  If he earns substantially more, then Bristol could file a motion to increase support.

Some states have laws which require the payer to notify the recipient and child support enforcement of any substantial change in financial circumstances.  A domestic litigation attorney licensed in your jurisdiction would be able to tell you whether your case is ripe for a modification.  In many states, a modified support order is backdated to the date of filing.  Therefore, it is important that you do not wait, contact your attorney right away.


What happens if he doesn’t pay?

If Levi fails to pay the ordered support amount, he is violating a Court Order.  When a party intentionally violates a Court Order, the Court could find the person in Contempt of Court.  Punishment for Contempt of Court can include a fine and/or jail time, and possibly the payment of the moving party’s costs and attorney’s fees.

However, one of the requirements for a finding of Contempt is generally that the person had the ability to pay.  Not being able to pay is different from just refusing to pay.  Even if you are not able to pay the full support amount however, it is important that you pay as much as you possibly can and contact an attorney right away regarding a modification.  Paying nothing does not help your argument to the Court that you were trying your very best.



  1. Keep detailed records.  If you are making support payments directly, make sure you are documenting payment and obtaining confirmation of receipt.
  2. Keep track of your earnings.  If your W2 is not reflective of your true earnings then you want to be able to show the Court what you are actually earning; just saying your bonus is not guaranteed is not enough.  For example, if you earned way more in the beginning of last year and your earnings drastically reduced mid-year, produce the last 12 weeks of paystubs all showing consistent reduced earnings.  If this is not an industry trend, then you are giving the Court evidence of your earnings that is more accurate than a W2.
  3. Don’t wait to consult an attorney regarding a modification.  Some states backdate only to the date a motion was filed.
  4. Do not voluntarily stop making support payments.  If you cannot afford your payments, contact an attorney right away to see if you qualify for a modification, the last thing you want is a finding of Contempt.

Note: This is Part 2 of a two-part series. Click here to read Part 1.


Erica Christian is an Associate Attorney in the Milwaukee, Wisconsin, office of Cordell & Cordell, P.C. She is licensed to practice law in the state of Wisconsin. She is a member of the Wisconsin Bar Association, the Family Law Section and the Children’s Law Section.

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