(CN) – A California appeals court admonished a former financial consultant for shirking his duty to support his family by deferring his $200,000 income. The court acknowledged that Marc Berger has the right to pursue happiness, but said he “certainly cannot do so by voluntarily deferring salary, living extravagantly off [his] sizeable assets, and pleading poverty at the support hearing.”
The former partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers was earning $600,000 before he left his job in 2001 to launch a landscape financing business, X-Scapes.
He divorced his wife, Rachael, in 2004. The former couple has two daughters.
Though X-Scapes was reportedly in dire financial straits, Berger continued to live a wealthy lifestyle on the company’s initial investments and his other assets. “By his own admission, Marc’s expenses exceed $21,000 per month,” the ruling states.
At trial, Berger admitted to having about $800,000 in cash, and said he took out a $1.8 million loan in early 2006 to build a house in Laguna Beach.
The trial court ordered him to “report on a quarterly basis … the financial circumstances of X-Scapes, and any job searches undertaken,” but stopped short of enforcing his $7,500 monthly support payments. The court found that Berger was earning only $2,000 a month at X-Scapes, because he had deferred the rest, and ordered him to pay $1,115 in child support and no spousal support.
The 4th District Court of Appeal said Berger can’t justify reducing his monthly payments by deferring his $200,000 income and putting it back into the business.
“The fact he is choosing to plow that salary back into the company cannot be spun into a basis for ignoring those earnings,” Justice Bedsworth wrote.
“Nobody forced Marc into this situation. Just as nobody forced him to spend nearly a million dollars on unimproved property in Laguna Beach,” the appellate court added. “Marc has chosen to relinquish his current ability to collect [his X-Scapes] salary, and thus – he believes – the bulk of his obligation to support his family.”
But Berger is not free to relinquish those obligations, the court concluded.
“Clearly, Marc has not viewed the deferral of his X-Scapes income as any justification for curtailing his own current lifestyle.”