"And if, by a combination of hard work, dedication, perseverance, and a great deal of luck, this child does in fact someday make it to the Broadway stage or silver screen, you heard it here first."
A recent trial court (lower court) decision found that parents have to contribute more than the customary amounts set forth in child support guidelines for "gifted" children.
The parents have been divorced for 7 years and have one child together. The father pays $113 a week in child support and has an annual income of $33,000. The mother has an annual income of $23,000. The parents fought over the child, Julie, repeatedly and the court conducted a number of interviews with the now 13 year-old. They revealed that Julie has a deep and committed focus to theatre, performing arts, and writing. She demonstrated, and convinced the court, that these feelings are profound and that she is willing and able to commit herself completely to those pursuits.
The judge noted that "With reference to an interest in a particular activity or skill, this child presents as one of the most committed children this court has interviewed in years." The child maintains a healthy relationship with her parents despite their constant battles, and they both support Julie completely in her performance art goals. The mother was requesting an additional several hundred dollars per year to support their child's theatre and other costs.
The court reviewed these circumstances in light of New Jersey's Child Support Guidelines, which generally include extracurricular activities to be built-in costs to the existing Guidelines. But the law also lets the court add support where the child is deemed "gifted" if reasonable comparable to the paying parent's income.
There was a lengthy discussion in the judge's decision of what "giftedness" means. The court said that while particular ability in academia or technology is somewhat measurable, in the arts it is not. It is impossible to objectively, logically, or fairly measure a teenager's giftedness as an actor.
The judge also said "Her giftedness does not necessarily relate to an ability to memorize lines or cry on cue, but rather, to her inherently extraordinary drive, desire, focus and commitment to act and perform on stage at her young age in the first place. "
Apparently, drive, willingness, self-discipline are "gifts". As to its public policy considerations, the following is telling. "Some say that in this day and age, it is becoming more and more rare to find people with the tenacity to work towards any specific goal at all. We now live in an internet age, in which millions of teenagers and adults alike spend countless hours and days loitering on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and every other social media site imaginable. This child, however, wants to be an achiever instead of a bystander. Further, she wants to take a creatively active and productive route to do so, notwithstanding the challenges and requirements which such a route may naturally entail."
The judge also concluded that supporting a child in a special talent could ultimately result in scholarships, grants, fellowships, and the like that would save the parents money. Therefore, the additional support of $250 by each parent was deemed appropriate by the court under the "gifted" idea.
Finally, the judge said that "As a matter of equity and basic human experience, a child with a highly motivated and organic drive and focus to work and persevere towards a specific goal in a particular discipline or field, independent of parental prodding, may be considered gifted in spirit and heart."
An interesting and disturbing decision, because the judge imposed a significant financial burden on parents, who both cared for their daughter, but were of limited means. Not "loitering" on Facebook, Twitter, etc., does not a "gifted" child make. Evan Xavier Bakhet is a J.D. Candidate at Rutgers School of Law-Newark with a scheduled graduation date in 2017. He collaborated with me on this blog.