Lessons To Learn from the Bristol Palin/Levi Johnston Child Support Order

By Erica Christian


Cordell & Cordell, P.C.

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

Although this is not the scenario you hear on the news everyday, let’s say you had a great year financially in 2009.  Sales were up, bonuses were paid, and overtime was plentiful.  You look at your 2009 W2 and sigh as you know 2010 will be a drastically different year.  You took a pay reduction, sales are crawling, and your boss is talking about potential layoffs.  Well for a person who is ordered to pay child support, this fluke year could drastically affect any modifiable support order.

Such might be the case for Levi Johnston.  On Nov. 3, 2009, Bristol Palin filed a legal petition seeking sole custody of their 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?


As with a previous article, I will preface:  I am not involved in this case; I have never met anyone with the last name Palin or Johnston; I am not commenting on the actual parenting ability of either party; I am not providing any legal advice; and in no way should this article be interpreted to support or oppose any political party.  This is an article which explores some of the domestic litigation issues that are apparent from the media coverage of the case.  Each state has distinct statutes which govern custody and placement of children.  If you are experiencing any issues relating to custody or placement of a child, you should contact a domestic litigation attorney licensed in your state.


How did they come to $1,688.42 per month?

Most jurisdictions determine child support by application of a formula.  Each state’s formula is different.  Some states use net income, some use gross; some count overtime and bonuses as income available for support, some may not.  Although I do not practice in Alaska, the coverage has indicated that when there is one child, Alaska law mandates that at a minimum, the non-custodial parent is obligated to pay 20% of his or her adjusted annual income as child support.

The question in Levi’s case was what figure to use for adjusted annual income?  His attorney asked the Court to calculate support on a quarterly basis with Levi paying 20% of the average earnings in a quarter.   However, the Court instead opted to use his 2009 earnings.



In addition to the monthly support obligation, Levi was ordered to pay Bristol $21,561.12 as backpay for child support dating back to Tripp’s date of birth.  While some states date back to the date a party files a motion for support, others go back to the date of birth.  Interestingly, reports indicate the Levi’s manager argued Levi paid over $10,000 to Bristol for child support during that time.  However, Bristol argued he only paid $4,400.

I do not know which number the Court took into consideration, but there is a very important lesson here:  document the payments!  To be safe, not only should you document the payment but you should also ask the mother to sign something acknowledging the receipt of the funds and the intended purpose of the payment.  You do not want her coming back and saying that you never made the payment or the payment you made was really a re-payment for a loan she gave to you rather than as and for child support.

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


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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