Freeman remains precedent in “above-the-guidelines” cases.
Smith v. Freeman, 149 Md. App. 1 (2002).
In Smith, the Court of Special Appeals addressed another above-the-guidelines case. This case differs from the aforementioned cases as the parties were never married. Antonio Freeman, the appellee was a professional football player earning annual salaries over $1,000,000 per year. At all points relevant to this matter, the appellant was unemployed and attending school. When the parties initially entered into an agreement regarding child support, Mr. Freeman was making an annual salary of $1.2 million. At that time, Mr. Freeman was making a combined monthly child support payment of $4,016.66, which included the $3,500 child support payment the parties agreed upon and a monthly payment of $516.66 for the child’s tuition. Two years later, Mr. Freeman was making an annual salary of $3.2 million. Following this rise in salary, the appellant, Ms. Smith, requested a modification of the child support obligation arguing a material change in circumstances.
The trial court found that a material change in circumstances existed as Mr. Freeman’s income drastically increased by $2 million, but denied the appellant’s motion for a modification because the child’s needs did not change. The trial court also noted that an increase in child support would be more to the benefit of the mother, not the child.
The Court of Special Appeals began its analysis by reiterating precedent that established “for purposes of the modification of child support, a material change in circumstances may be based either on a change “in the needs of the children or in the parents’ ability to provide support.”” (quoting Unkle v. Unkle, 305 Md. 587, 597 (1986). Further, the CSA concluded that the existence of a material change in circumstances does not necessarily require a modification. The standard upon which a modification may be granted is a disjunctive one. Essentially, a court may grant a modification based on either “a change in need or a change in parental resources.” The CSA went on to state that children of wealthy parents are entitled to extravagances enjoyed by families of substantial wealth, i.e. private school, luxury vacations, summer camp. Similar to your current case, Smith involved parents who had never married. The trial court in Smith took note of this fact and relied on it for its final decision to deny the modification, establishing that the parties’ minor child had never enjoyed the Mr. Freeman’s wealthy status. The CSA quickly dismantled this analysis by concluding that “a child’s entitlement to support does not turn on the parents’ marital status at the time of the child’s birth, nor may the court put a child at an economic disadvantage merely because the parents had never been united in marriage.” (quoting Jackson v. Proctor, 145 Md. App. 76 (2002). Further, the CSA concluded that it would be improper for a trial court to base a child support award on the mere fact that the child has never experienced or enjoyed the lifestyle that would have been established had the parties lived together with the child. Ultimately, the CSA vacated the trial courts order and remanded the case for further proceedings.
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