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.


  1. This is what pisses me off. It takes 2 to make a baby, not 1. I do not feel that only 1 should be financially responsible. Both parties should carry the load. College is a luxury and not a given right. Especially if you have children to support. If college is in your plans then go part time and work full time. The money that is given for child support is for the child. If your household equals 2 then divide the rent, utl, groceries, etc in half and the cost for the child half should come out of the monies given to you from the support. You should carry your own load. Don't get into something you yourself can not afford. Your child should not be taking care of you. Also, if you fill that the child should have a life style like the parent who is paying the support then that child should go and live with that parent. That would be in the best interest of the child according to the parent who wants more money. Men stop being simple wrap it up tight and when done flush it yourself.

  2. In Maryland, both parents' income is considered in calculating child support. But in the case where an athlete makes millions and even if Mom works does not make anywhere near that, Dad is going to proportionally pay more.

    Also, there is no indication that the mother is using the child support in this case for anything but the child.

  3. There is indication that the mother is using the money for something other than for the child. The above article stated that the mother was a college student and did not work. So, how is she supporting herself? Who is supporting her?

  4. Student loans like everyone else?

    The judges found not evidence of misuse of the child support money. The guy is a multimillionare athlete. He can afford to pay for his kid's private school and special activities. Or should the child do without because Mom is not also a millionaire?

  5. I have no problem with the one making the millions paying for the private school and special activites. No where am I stating that the child should suffer. Also, why is he being penalized because he has this special talent? My concern is the other party taking advantage of the multimillionaire. If you want that lifestyle be one. Just because you and the millionaire was careless doesn't mean it entitles you to a lifestyle upgrade. If you want that, get MARRIED to him. Oops he has to ask. And as far as the student loan, No Not Like Everyone Else. I was fortunate to have my tuition paid for by my parents. They paid for mine and my brothers. My parents both with Post Grad Degree, married and waited to have children. True enough this is not the norm for some, but nevertheless, it is my norm. It is also what I and my husband are doing for ours. This seems to be what Mr. Freeman has in mind for his child.