Smith v. Stewart – Case Brief Summary (Vermont)

In Smith v. Stewart, 165 Vt. 364, 684 A.2d 265 (Vt. 1996), the court clearly refuted the notion that the amount of child support is necessarily linked to a child's day-to- day "needs."

What the court said is noteworthy:

The father argues ... that this discretion to increase a child support award may be exercised only when there is demonstrated need for the children to receive the additional amount. We disagree that the sole criterion for determining the support amount for above-guideline- income cases is the need of the child. The children are entitled to share in family income if it grows after the parents separate. See C.D. v. N.M., 160 Vt. 495 at 500, 631 A.2d 848 at 851 (amount of child support should be based on policy of meeting needs of children and having them share family income). Thus, the children are entitled to a part of the "fruits of one parent's good fortune after a divorce." In re Marriage of Nimmo, 891 P.2d 1002, 1007 (Colo. 1995); see also Galbis v. Nadal, 626 A.2d 26, 31 (D.C. Ct. App. 1993)(children are "entitled to a level of support commensurate with the income and lifestyle of the parents"); Miller v. Schou, 616 So. 2d 436, 437 (Fla. 1993)(child has a right to share in the good fortune of his or her parent). (684 A.2d at 268.)

The Vermont court also recognized that a parent cannot be expected to increase the expenses for a child by spending money he or she does not yet have, as a way to justify a request for an increase in child support. 684 A.2d at 269 (citing Nash v. Mulle, 846 S.W.2d 803, 806 (Tenn. 1993)).

Significantly, the court also rejected any suggestion that additional child support would merely enrich the mother as "disguised additional maintenance." From the court's perspective, nothing in the evidence suggested that the mother intended to use the increased support for her own benefit. Smith, 684 A.2d at 269.