Family Law Corner: $325K in Unpaid Spousal Support to Pay Leaves “Hustle & Flow” Star Strapped for Legal Options

By Ariel Sosna and Sarah Van Voorhis, Van Voorhis & Sosna

Terrence Howard

Terrence Howard

Terrence Howard (“Iron Man” and “Hustle & Flow”) may be realizing that multiple marriages have a price to pay–spousal support. Howard has moved on to wife #3, but he continues to pay child support and spousal support to his first wife and spousal support to his second wife, Michelle Ghent. According to TMZ, Ghent, is claiming in her court pleadings that Howard has missed 49 spousal support payments (nearly every payment since the divorce), accruing over $325,000 in unpaid spousal support as well as $106,000 in unpaid attorneys’ fees.

In response to Ghent’s pleadings, Howard claims he can’t pay support because of his large outstanding tax debt. Various sources state that Howard owes $1,200,000 in federal and state taxes for 2007 and 2008. Ironically, these are the only recent years Howard was single so this tax debt is his alone. In addition to his tax liability, Howard claims his monthly salary is less than $6,000 per month after paying his first ex-wife.

In determining support, courts scrutinize the expenses claimed by parties to ensure they are accurate. For example, In re Marriage of Hoffmeister [Hoffmeister II] (1987) 191 Cal.App.3d 351, the court noted that if wife’s expenses were accurate she would have $40,000 in debt rather than the $4,800 she actually had in savings. While it is not clear what legal relief Howard is seeking, his options are limited. If Howard is asking for retroactive modification of spousal support, as it appears he is, then he may be out of luck. Under Family Code §3651, a “support order may not be modified or terminated as to an amount that accrued before the date of the filing of the notice of motion or order to show cause to modify or terminate.” Once the spousal support was due and Howard didn’t have a motion pending in court, he owed the spousal support.

Furthermore, if the court finds Howard’s expense claims untrue and finds he is willfully refusing to comply with the support order (as Ghent is claiming), then his request for reducing support going forward will be denied. (Triest v. Triest (1944) 67 Cal.App.2d 320; Moore v. Moore (1955) 133 Cal.App.2d 56).

Hopefully for Howard, his third marriage will stick, but the odds are against him. The 2006 U.S. Census reported that 73% of third marriages ended in divorce.

About the authors:

Sarah-and-ArielSarah Van Voorhis, a Certified Family Law Specialist, and Ariel Sosna are founding partners of Van Voorhis & Sosna. Follow them on Twitter at @VanVoorhisSosna