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Real Child Support Family Law Cases: What would you decide?
In the last blog we looked at spousal support in a very high income case involving the Canadian businessman, Robert Herjavec, who was ordered to pay $124,000 in spousal support. I had left the reader to guess how much he was required to pay for child support.
The answer was a total of $45,000 per month in child support for his younger daughter who lived fulltime with her mother and for the older daughter who was away at school and home for about one-third of the year. Child support in Canada is paid on a net of tax basis so that the mother would not have to pay any tax on the amount received. That means that at his income tax bracket it costs Mr. Herjavec about $90,000 per month before tax. That is obviously a lot of money and most people cannot figure out what it could possibly be spent on. However, with two teenage daughters 19 and 17 years old, I am sure that they would be more than willing to ask their mother to spend some of the money on them.
But what about support for a two year old? Let me tell you about the case of Amir Johnson, a professional basketball player who played for the Raptors and is now with the Boston Celtics. During his time playing in Toronto, he had a relationship with Alana, age 25, who is currently a student at Humber College. They disagree as to how much time they spent together and about the nature of their relationship. She says that they lived at his condo for about 18 months. He says that she lived with her mother and spent time with him at the condo, but she never actually lived there. In any event, they were together long enough to conceive a child who has just turned two years of age. There is no dispute about paternity.
Mr. Johnson is now making $12 million U.S. a year. The mother went to court asking for child support in the sum of $50,000 per month. Her argument is that her child is entitled to live in the style that is in keeping with her wealthy father. Alana also asked for spousal support for herself but that issue is yet to be decided given the dispute as to whether they actually lived together or not.
In Canada, we have Child Support Guidelines that provide for a table of child support payable that is based on the income of the payor and the number of children for which support is being paid. However, the regulations do say that a judge has discretion to order something less than the amount set out in the Guidelines if that amount would be inappropriate given the level of income and the child’s expenses. So what should rich parents pay for the support of their children after they separate? There is an argument (this was in the news recently with respect to a teenager from a very rich family in the United States who got in trouble with the law) that children of wealthy parents suffer from “affluenza” which is another way of saying that the money turns them into spoiled brats! Peter Nygard, another wealthy Canadian business man made the argument in 2004 that ordering him to pay a large amount of child support will be detrimental to his daughter as it will subject her to getting affluenza. The judge did not buy it, and that argument has gotten no traction in any court in Canada to date.
So what should Mr. Johnson pay for the support of his two year old daughter? Does it matter whether he continues to have a relationship with her? Should the mother have to justify what the money is being spent on? How do the courts assure that the money is actually spent on the child and not used to create a higher lifestyle for the mother in this case? What happens when he is no longer playing basketball and his income goes down? Should the mother be made to set aside money for the future or should the father do that?
What about children that Mr. Johnson might have in the future after he is married and no longer playing basketball? Should they be entitled to something less to live on as a result of the payments that he is making to support his first child? The courts have by and large avoided having to answer such questions especially when it comes to professional athletes who make a lot of money for a short period of time. There is a tendency to pretend that all children are born of married parents in a long term relationship which fact pattern is becoming increasingly untrue given the fact that every year, more and more people are choosing to living together without getting married.
Back to Mr. Johnson. How much did he have to pay? The answer is $28,000 per month and she is not even old enough to ride a pony! How do you think the child support obligation should be measured? And how should the law deal with cases when there is no guarantee that a high level of income is going to be sustained until the child has completed his/her education! What would you do if you were the judge.