News of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s and Maria Shriver’s divorce caught many off guard. They seemed like a storybook couple. When word broke of his extra-marital affair, connecting the dots was much simpler.
Putting aside the implications for Arnold’s and Maria’s young children (coping and recovery certainly will be tough for their kids), issues raised from this news include tricky paternity matters, including Arnold’s duty to support the child.
This includes how to establish true “paternity” – especially if the mother was married when she had the child, and if any husband (none the wiser regarding the child’s true lineage) treated the boy as his own. Much of this is unknown. As such, we’re speculating on a hypothetical situation.
The issue of “presumption of legitimacy” of a child of the marriage weighs large in most paternity cases.
We are not licensed to practice law in California, so we’ll use the family’s example as if the case were to be tried under Florida jurisdiction and law. Regarding Arnold’s duty to support, under Florida law, this falls to the presumed father of a child. Even if the husband is not the father (and had no reason to suspect he wasn’t), the presumption is that the child is the legitimate offspring of the husband. To that end, most courts would not disestablish paternity – essentially making the child a bastard in the legal sense. If the husband played the role of father emotionally and financially during the child’s life, courts generally will not strip him of that designation.
Given Arnold’s acknowledgment, though, under Florida law, the boy would expect every right and privilege as a child of a high-wage earner.
The father of this young child would have the duty and obligation to pay child support. To be sure, if Arnold is determined to be the legal father, then the child support obligations would be steep. He’d be expected to cover most of the child’s expenses including medical and dental expenses and extra-curricular activities. He might also be expected to pay for private school tuition and related expenses such as books, uniforms, and any other ancillary costs.
These duties and obligations would remain until the boy turns 18 year of age, or if he has not completed high school by his 18th birthday, until he graduates or by the age 19.
The issue of children born as a result of extramarital affairs creates complicated situations. Each case is different. While it is interesting to wonder why celebrities, athletes, and politicians often find themselves in these situations, the truth is, they’re real people. Their lives are made potentially more complex because they’re surrounded by sycophants and “yes women” who won’t ‘just say no.’
They’re often perceived as being above the law, and above the issues of morality. Yet, Arnold’s tale proves otherwise.
Still, the story of Arnold Schwarzenegger, his mistress and their child is not unique. As family law practitioners, we frequently see similar cases. The takeaway: this situation is not unique. The case of Arnold and Maria is just very public – and provides us a case study in how surrounding issues can play out in the court of law, if not the court of public opinion.