Paternity Litigation and the Professional Athlete
by Peter M. Walzer
Protecting the Player and the Team
The athlete who has been sued to establish his paternity is under severe stress. His reputation and lifestyle are threatened. Often his playing deteriorates and consequently his relationship with the team is impaired.
The player in this situation may not understand his legal responsibilities. Advising him of his obligations will enable him to deal with the legal, financial and ethical issues involved.
A player who can effectively address the issues in his case will quickly get his life in order and begin playing up to his potential.
His personal difficulties become less of a distraction for teammates and managers. This supports morale and keeps the organization focused on winning.
When Is the Player Responsible?
- When DNA tests indicate the player is the father.
- A player can be legally responsible for the child as a result of only one sexual encounter.
- Even if the player was trapped or tricked into the encounter, he will still be obligated to pay child support.
- Even if the mother has had multiple partners, the player can still be responsible if testing indicates that the player is the father.
When Is the Player Not Responsible?
- If the player had no access to the mother, he will not be responsible for the child.
- In some states, if the mother is married to another man, her husband can be deemed the child’s father, even if he is not the biological father.
- If another man legally adopts the child, the player will not be obligated to pay child support.
- If the court determines the player is not the father by comparing his DNA with the mother’s and the child’s, he is not responsible for child support.
How Much Does Child Support Cost?
Child support can be very costly-up to six figures annually. The amount of support varies from county to county, depending on a number of factors:
- The amount of the parents’ income
- The amount of time spent with the child
- In some cases, the expenses of the child
- The number of other children the player has
- Other child-related expenses such as medical costs, child care, private school, college, and life insurance
- The applicable law in the jurisdiction and how the judges apply the law
How Long Must the Father Pay Support?
The obligation usually lasts until the child is 18 years old. In some states it lasts until the child graduates from high school, and in others it can last until the child reaches the age of 21.
The player and the mother can agree to an amount of support lower than the guideline. The language of the agreement should protect the player from future modifications.
The player can modify his child support downward if his income decreases. A trial date can take a long time to obtain, so the application must be filed and served before the salary change becomes effective.
In most states, nonpayment of child support cannot be used to prevent the player from seeing his child. The player may need to obtain a court order to see his child. The player cannot be forced to visit his child, but the amount of visitation can be a factor in setting the amount of child support.
It is possible to obtain primary custody of the child if it can be shown that it is in the child’s best interests for the player to become the custodial parent. Even if he has full custody, the player can still end up being obligated to pay child support.
The Proper Court to Litigate
Some state courts order lower support than others. The laws differ from state to state, and some jurisdictions may be more favorable to the player’s case than others. A knowledgeable attorney can assist you in picking the best venue for your proceedings.
If a matter is settled privately before a court action is filed, it is possible, with an agreement of the parties, for the case to be kept confidential and away from the media. Once an action is filed, the media are likely to find out about it. Even then, if the matter is handled properly, it may be possible to limit the amount of information the media can obtain from the file.
The Law Office of Peter M. Walzer offers the following:
- A confidential telephone evaluation of the case
- Referrals to experienced family law attorneys outside Los Angeles and Ventura Counties
- Advice on whether to object to the jurisdiction of the Southern California courts
- Coordination of litigation in other jurisdictions relating to the same player
- Expert representation on issues of paternity, support, custody and dissolution of marriage
- Preparation of premarital and cohabitation agreements
- Negotiated confidential settlements relating to paternity and divorce
- Protection from invasive discovery of assets and income
Peter M. Walzer
Certified Family Law Specialist, Board of Legal Specialization, The State Bar of California
Fellow of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers
Fellow of the International Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers
Peter M. Walzer provides his clients with the highest level of professional personal service. He has represented athletes in marital dissolutions and in paternity litigation. He has lectured for UCLA Extension, Attorney’s Briefcase, The State Bar of California, and California Continuing Education of the Bar.
His articles have appeared in California Lawyer, Los Angeles Lawyer, Fair $hare, and the American Bar Association’s Family Advocate. He has been quoted in the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, and The Wall Street Journal.