Chris Brown’s Child Custody Battle Explained by Family Lawyer Scott Weston [EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW]
Chris Brown has made it his business to change his ways now that he's a father. The 25-year-old singer, whose career has been at a tug of war between highs and personal lows for years, made headline lines once again in March with shocking news that he had a 9-month-old daughter named Royalty. At the time, he was with Karreuche Tran, a relationship that ended quickly once she found out the news. Vowing to abandon the reckless behavior of his past, the “Liquor” crooner set out on a quest to establish custody of the child he shares with her mother, Nia Guzman.
The case of Brown vs. Guzman began on July 2 when he filed for joint custody in a Houston, Texas family court after Guzman requested an increase in monthly child support. Breezy was allegedly ponying up $2,500 per month, an amount he felt was sufficient, but Guzman reportedly requested an increase in payment to $15,000 -- a number he felt was ridiculously high since Royalty was in his care for much of the time. The financial drama led Brown to claim that Guzman was refusing to let him see his daughter, however, several of his Instagram posts featured Royalty as the main star. The father and daughter duo even went to Disneyland.
The conversation, already a public spectacle, continued on social media just a few days after custody papers were filed. Royalty’s grandmother (Guzman's mother) left a comment on an Instagram post on July 6 claiming that the 1-year-old in fact needed to live in a gated community, go to a private school and have security around her even when she's not with her father.
Knowing Brown's past social media tirades, his response was a bit of a shock considering he was rather logical in explaining the facts to grandma, reminding her that his daughter is with him for two weeks out of the month. He also held his ground on the financial front, stating, “no kid needs 4K a week.” The X creator was rather mature in his delivery and called out Guzman's mother for putting private family matters on the internet for the world to see.
As the matter of child custody is now in the hands of the court, it appears as though CB is dedicated to raising his daughter and being a responsible dad. However, his most recent July 15 home invasion, in which his home was robbed and his aunt held at gunpoint, and another incident in May, when a woman also broke into his home, plus his criminal past, could be detrimental to Breezy’s case.
We wanted to find out more about how family court cases work, especially with regards to celebrities and a person of Chris Brown’s status, so we got on the phone with celebrity family court lawyer Scott Weston. Weston has been practicing law for more than 26 years (that’s more years than Brown has been alive) and is a partner in the Los Angeles-based firm Fox Rothschild LLP. While he is not the lawyer in Brown's case, Weston shines a light on how paternity cases work, the differing guidelines of child support and how Breezy's recent home invasion could play a role in his child custody battle.
The Boombox: What are the chances that a judge would grant Chris Brown equal custody of his daughter knowing his track record with the law -- doing jail time, domestic violence -- and considering his career as a music artist?
Scott Weston: I don’t know what his current custody arrangement is, but if he’s asking for 50/50 and has not been a 50/50 participant and he has the history that he has, then the court is going to do this custody hearing in a very slow process, which is going to involve him having to prove himself. I don’t know if he has monitored visitation right now, because I am not dealing with his case.
Chris Brown has stated that he has is daughter, Royalty, two weeks per month. But the financial matters come into play because the child’s mother is stating that she needs $4,000 per week or $15,000 per month in child support.
Here’s the thing, if you were to just look at a case from a standpoint that someone has done jail time, been convicted of domestic violence and they have not been primary caretaker, if those are the facts and there’s nothing else presented, then the odds are not great. The judge is going to give 50/50 initially and then there would be certain stages to get back into a position where it's equal custody. However, he’s saying he has his daughter at least two weeks out of the month; we don’t know if that’s true or not, but if that is the pattern, then the court is not likely to change that pattern. The pattern would change if there is specific contact done by Chris that is injurious to the change or not in her [Royalty's] best interest.
Brown filed the case in Houston, but what is the standard in California, where he has residency?
The standard in California is pretty broad. It’s geared to be in the best interest of the child. The court has to weigh pretty much any factor that would involve the child’s best interest to figure out what that would be.
What effects do you feel these custody battles have on the family dynamic? Royalty is only 1 years old.
Typically a 1-year-old is going to spend more time with mother than with the father because the research shows and experts would testify -- assuming she’s [Nia Guzman] hiring experts -- that a child that age really needs to bond with one primary parent. The other parent needs to have frequent and continual contact, but there really should be one primary home and that’s mainly for sleeping and what not. It’s difficult when the child becomes 2 and 3 going back and forth between two homes.
If the mother takes a stand and says because of the tender age of the child she wants to have more time, I think the court would give it to her in the earlier years. Now that doesn’t mean he will not have access, but with respect to child support, it is treated separately from custody.
What are the child support guidelines and how do they differ?
One thing you have to remember is that child support guidelines, one of the facts considered is custodial timeshare. The more time he has with Royalty, the less the child support guidelines will be.
How is the amount of money a child needs determined? Does the judge look at yearly salary?
We have to ask what do we think his income is? Here is food for that on that. I don’t know what his annual income is. But the court has the discretion to determine that he is an exceptionally high-income earner and can stray from what ever the guidelines may be. For instance, if he’s making, let’s say $5 million per year, and the guidelines is $25,000 per month, he has the right to go into the courts and say, "I am an extremely high-income earner" and the application of that amount would adjust.
Are you saying the burden is on Chris to say, "I make more so I can pay more or less?"
The burden is on him and the court has the discretion to go below that guideline. But the guideline is presumed to be correct in each and every case. Then the court is going to look at this rule; the child is entitled to live a lifestyle that is in accordance with both parents. The questions would arise: Mr. Brown, let’s see what kind of lifestyle this child, albeit 1 [years old], is living? How big is your home? How much would it cost to rent your home? Do you have household help? How much are you paying for that help? Where are you shopping for her clothes? Those kind of things. The more of an exaggerated lifestyle he is providing for her in his home, the harder it is for him to attack the guidelines.
With that in mind, there are certain things that a 1-year-old doesn’t need that maybe a 12-year-old needs. For example, they need some full-time nanny and daycare help. A 12-year-old child would not need that. A 1-year old doesn’t need to go to school. She could potentially go to a play class or a mommy-and-me class. We have to look at what type of expenses a 1-year-old is going to need besides diapers, clothing and education or play school, medical and housing. Any other incidentals for a child being raised in a family like this would be considered, and, of course, it would be more upscale. She’s not going to have to shop at Target for her baby items.
It seems like there are a lot of factors to be considered for the child support guidelines.
You could build a budget, but the court has to run the guideline, then announce what the guidelines are. If it is going to stray from, it has to give a reason. So you can imagine with that much discretion if he takes this case to 20 different justices, he will get 20 different results. If you’re on his side, you are saying, "How much does a 1-year-old need?" And if you are on her side, you are saying, "Let’s look at the lifestyle he’s providing and I should be able to provide the same."
How does a custody battle tend to affect the parent? How would it affect his career? For example, in Chris Brown's case, would he have to switch up certain performance dates to accommodate spending time with his daughter if a judge awarded him custody?
That’s a really good question. I think courts are accustomed to understanding that if you have one working parent, they are providing for the child and they happen to be an athlete of entertainer; and the way they make their money is to be on the road they are not going to penalize them because they are working. What they will do is, the judge will schedule around that. They can put together a schedule on a quarterly basis and it may turn out that he doesn’t have her 50/50 because his work will not allow him to have it.
The bigger question is: now that he has this child, is he going to change his life? Is he going adjust his work around the child or his child custody schedule around his work? That’s kind of a guessing game.
His home was recently robbed in Los Angeles in early July. One of the robbers even held his aunt at gunpoint. Brown wasn't home at the time. How does an incident like this come into play when a lawyer on the opposing side is building a case or a judge is determining custody?
They can see this as he isn’t providing safety for this child and that it’s not in best interest for her to be there because it’s not secure. Also, that he doesn’t have enough security. The [home invasion] can certainly play a role and show that his daughter is at risk. This also bolsters the mother's need to have the child live in a gated community with full-time security and added protection so that her child is not abducted or taken for monetary purposes. In addition, [Guzman] could say, "[Royalty] belongs with me. He has no experience and he needs to take parenting or anger management classes." The robbery can also bring into question whether he’s hanging out with unsavory people, whether he’s allowing those people into the house.
Yes, authorities seem to think that it was someone close to him that robbed the home.
That’s going to get played up quite a bit and could have an impact on the case. I think if he really wants custody he would have to demonstrate to the court that, because this being his first child, he is changing the ways in which he is doing things. For example, he’s educating himself, he has private help and full-time people surrounding him and coaching him. He’s not going out, and doing father and toddler classes, or whatever it is.
Have you dealt with a lot of celebrities in similar cases?
I deal with a lot of celebrities. If they are in the situation he's in, I usually try to negotiate the deals privately so that it's not a public spectacle. I keep my clients off of social media because while that plays well for [the media] and the public, it doesn't really help their cause and they will misstep with what they put on social media.