When Broken-Down Celebrities Cannot Pay Child Support Obligations: Dennis Rodman
|Former Piston & |
Hall of Famer Dennis Rodman
Fast forward a few months, and here was Rodman's pro bono lawyer explaining to a family court judge, then to the press, that the man was broken down, sick, unable to earn the millions he did in the days of yore and thus, unable to pay his child support obligations.
According to the LA Times, his child support arrearage for two children is fast-approaching one million dollars.
As a Special Assistant Attorney General assigned to prosecute felony child support cases, I've seen a few professional athletes pop-up as criminal defendants with eye-popping arrearages. These cases highlight the peaks and valleys characterizing the income history of many star athletes.
The basic problem is that these superstars show multi-million dollar income, but for a very short period of time. Many of them spend the dough on a lavish lifestyle rather than save and when it all comes to a crashing end, they fail to seek an adjustment of their support obligation in the family court; hence the whopping arrears.
Rodman's case was different; he was able to take his insane schtick to the bank for years following his NBA earning years. Now that he has aged and is reportedly ill, all that has gone away.
Here in Michigan, child support is controlled by the Michigan Child Support Formula; literally an algorithm taking into account the relative income of the child's parents, as well as the overnight parenting schedule.
Like Michigan, some states have adopted support formulas that "top-out" for high earners. Here in Michigan, for example, child support can only be calculated for an annual income of $422,916 or less.
In addition, the MCSF takes away most of the court's discretion in setting child support. Absent compelling factors, support is determined through a straight-forward application of the MCSF.
In the case of some high-earning payors, litigants have cried foul, asserting that when a parent earns millions of dollars, his children should share in that wealth. This is particularly the case where the high income is short-lived; like with most professional athletes. Rodman's income went on for much longer than most.
Like Michigan, Florida, Nebraska, Virginia, West Virginia and Wyoming all use a straight formulaic approach [with a cap] to the calculation of child support. Other states utilize a percentage approach where the child support obligation just keeps going up; keeping pace with the parent's high income.
Recognizing this problem, some states have specific statutes that address high income households. These statutes usually provide the family court judge with some good old-fashioned "discretion" to determine the child support obligation in accord with the "best interests of the child."
It will be interesting to see whether the family court judge will give Rodman a break and reduce his child support. But arrearage is arrearage; due and owing to his two children.
We cannot help but wonder, over the past several years, whether Rodman spent his fortune on himself rather than taking care of his children.