Sunday, January 22, 2012

Child Support and the Athlete

While researching one of my child support cases (not anywhere near the realm of a professional athlete's salary), I ran across an interesting case.   Antonio Freeman of the Eagles (at the time, he is more known for playing for the Green Bay Packers) was being sued by the mother of his child for an increase in child support.    He had an agreement with the mother when the child was first born.   He would pay $3500 a month in child support, pay all private school expenses, all medical and dental expenses not covered by health insurance and establish a college fund.   It is quite clear that Mr. Freeman fulfilled his side of the agreement.

Mom was a student and did not work.    One of Mr. Freeman's arguments was that an increase in child support would actually be supporting the mother, not the child.   I get this a lot.   The person paying the child support swears up and down that the person receiving the support is spending it on his/herself.   Here's the deal, the support does not have to directly support the child.   In other words, the kid does not pay rent to live in the house, the kid does not have his/her own jar of peanut butter and jelly or loaf of bread for sandwiches.   If child support goes to pay the mortgage, that's fine.   It is still benefitting the child.   If the child support is used to pay groceries for the whole family, okay.   The child gets to eat too.   If the money goes to car repairs, great.   Even if the child is too young to drive, they need to be in a safe car (it should be noted that Mr. Freeman bought the mom a car as agreed so she would have a safe car to transport the child).   It's about the KID and all the things that go into raising and caring for a child.   It's not about accounting.  

Here's the other reality check for payors and payees alike -- for most cases, the child support is not nearly enough to really support the child.   The good folks in the legislators who draw up the child support guidelines know that they are just making a best guess as to how to provide for the child.   Child Support is not the end of the support for the child.    At least in Maryland, the principle is both parents are expected to support the child.    The child support payment is that parent's share of the support.   The non-paying parent still has a duty to provide support for the child.   They just aren't writing a check to the other parent for it.   But, yes, raising a child means using some of your own money to support the child.  

Back to Mr. Freeman.   The trial court in this case was not amused to hear that the child got a lot of new shoes and clothes every month.   Nor did they think N'Sync concerts were necessary to a child.   The Court of Special Appeals disagreed.    There is a difference between a child's "needs" and a child's "necessities."    Necessities are food, clothing and shelter.   And sometimes that is all parents can afford to provide.   But in this case, the child was the child of a professional athlete who was making $1.2 million at the time of the agreement and was now making $3.2 million.    It's a cruel fact of life that rich parents can provide more things for the child than poor parents.  

Should child support be the great leveler and only provide for support at the most basic level for all children?    Of course not.    The justices of the CSA ruled that the "child is entitled to the standard of living of the economic position of the parents."   Rich kids are entitled to a better standard living than poor parents.   Perhaps "entitled" is not the best word.    But, children should not be punished just because their parents happen to be rich.   It is not the child's fault that the parents make more money than other kids' parents.    It's life.   To order less child support just because another child won't get as much makes no sense.  

Because disparity of incomes mean child support is different in each case, so too do the needs of the child expand when there is more money to spend on non-necessities.   The child attends private school, presumably with other children of wealth.   Should she not be allowed to attend the same events, participate in the same extra-curricular activities just because her mother receives child support than the other children in the school? Of course not.    Remember this is about the KID.    It's about making sure the child has the appropriate lifestyle.   In this case, this should be entitled to the same lifestyle as other children of professional athletes.  

Of course, some would argue that because the parents were never married, the child never was used to the father's wealthy lifestyle.   Bah humbug.   Do I really have to say who it is about again?    It is not about Mom and Dad and their relationship.   Again, the child should not be punished just because Mom and Dad never married.   It's 2012.    Newsflash, there are unmarried parents out there.   The child should not be relegated to the economic level of the mother just because that is who she lives with.   She has a rich dad.   She is entitled to that benefit.   So what if once the parents were married.   By the time you get to child support, the parents aren't living together anyway.   So should children of married parents be reduced to the standard of living of the parent who gets custody, if it is less than the other parent?   Or should the wealthy parent get custody just on the basis of wealth?   Think about that for a minute.   Again, the kids would be harmed based on what the parents did.  

One of Mr. Freeman's arguements was that his career would be short as a professional athlete.   This case was decided in 2002, he retired from the Packers in 2007.   The court reasoned it is even more important to have high child support now because of it, rather than using it as an excuse to keep child support low.   The idea being the Mother would save some of the money now for the child's care later (hey, one can hope).   That is why the college fund needed to be established now because he might not have the funds later.   However, his career has no  more guarantees than any other career.    As a lawyer, I could conceivably practice until my mind goes (let the easy jokes go people).   However, there is no guarantee how long that will be.   I could be hit by a bus tomorrow -- and the way I drive it is not that far fetched.   No person paying child support has a guarantee of making the same income in the future.   That's why one can petition for a downward modification as well as an upward modification.    It's not just the person who is receiving the support who has the right to petition for modification.   The person paying also has that right if there is a change.   If one loses one job, or is cut by the team, one can request the court modify the support at that time.    But there is no point doing it prospectively, none of us know the future -- not even the courts.

In sum, if you have the money pay up for your child's sake.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

New Year's Resolution

Got a little behind in posting.   My trial schedule was a little unbelievable.   Then I was too exhausted over the holidays to do anything.   Sorry about that.

Here's what I missed:

Kobe Bryant's wife filed for divorce.   Apparently there was no pre-nup.   All I gotta say on that one is "What an idiot."   The guy makes millions because of his unique ability to play basketball, yet he does not protect his ass -ets by having a pre-nup.   This is the wife he had a lot of explaining to do back in 2004, that one cost him a big old ring.   This divorce could cost him even more.

Floyd Mayweather is sentenced to 90 days in jail for domestic violence.  Well, it's a start.   But 90 days is hardly getting tough on the crime of domestic violence.   He must report to jail by January 6.  Happy New Year, Floyd.

Okay, there are probably other stories.   I promise to do better in 2012.   More stories (provided the athletes cooperate), more analysis.   All provided in a timely analysis.

Hope 2012 is a wonderful year for everyone.