An athlete involved in a paternity battle is at risk. His reputation and lifestyle are threatened. His play may deteriorate as a result of the stress of litigation. A dropped ball or missed play resulting from his lack of focus can impair his relationship with the team. That damaged relationship impacts the player’s financial future. More importantly, if the player is the father of the child, he may not know how to fulfill his financial and moral responsibilities. He may have no experience on what it means to be a father to a child. The attorney may be the player’s only conscience and could be the difference between that child growing up fatherless or growing up with a loving father.
A powerful way to stop this cycle is to provide the player information regarding his legal rights and responsibilities. Education and advice will enable him to more effectively cope by minimizing uncertainty – just as a play book assists him during the game. Sometimes this is more easily said than done. The player may have agents, managers, and a team protecting him from the public. You must personally gain access to the player. If you are “star struck”, you may not have the moxie to tell him about the facts of life. It is critical that you have direct access to the player face-to-face so that you develop the personal relationship necessary to make effective representation possible.
The pregnancy could have resulted from a one night stand. The player may have even been tricked into the encounter. The mother may have had several sexual partners or may be a prostitute. Regardless, the athlete will be held responsible for the DNA test proves that he is the biological father of this child. The man will usually not be responsible for a child when a DNA test concludes that he is not the father except in cases where the biological father is determined to be a “de factor parent” – which is unlikely. If the player is determined to be the biological father, the court will then issue custody and child support orders. In California the amount of time a child has with the father has an effect on the amount of child support that will be paid. If the player is determined to have an extraordinarily high income, the guidelines of child support will not apply and the needs of the child will be taken into account. The needs of a child are based on the high earning parent’s standard of living. Child support amounts will differ from state to state so it is critical to determine which state should handle the matter. Jurisdictional battles are not uncommon in high profile athletes’ child support cases.
Custody and support orders are modifiable if there is a significant change in a parent’s circumstances. It is a good idea to keep your eye on your player’s career to look at team trades that may result in possible decreases in salary. Then you can file a modification in advance of the decrease. Generally, athletes do not have long careers. The average playing career for a National Football League player is 3.5 years; the average Major League Baseball career is 5.6 years; the average National Basketball Association career is 4.8 years, and the average National Hockey League career is 5.5 years. It is important to file a modification of child support prior to the end of a player’s career so that the support orders do not continue at the same income level. No one with a normal salary can afford the high support order that premier athletes pay. Because of the short duration of professional athletes’ careers, parties are sometimes allowed to agree to put some of the support in a trust to provide for the child once the player is not earning a high salary. Some state courts will order that funds be placed in a trust for the child. California is not one of those states. Since child support is always modifiable, the trust must be carefully drafted to avoid any problems in the future.
In some cases an athlete’s salary increases which can often result in legal action filed to increase the amount of child support. The Uniform Interstate Foreign Support Act (UIFSA) governs where an action can be filed. The attorney must be prepared to oppose a modification proceeding based on lack of jurisdiction under UIFSA.
The player may have support awards in several jurisdictions. Thus it may be necessary to coordinate modification proceedings in several states ensuring that the courts take into account the other child support and possibly spousal support obligations for which the player is also responsible.
Protecting the athlete requires a personal relationship with the “star”. It requires a command of the jurisdictional requirements for filing a child support proceeding. It requires that the attorney know the best place to proceed, and it requires constant attention to the athlete’s career so that a modification of support can be filed promptly.
For more information on high profile paternity suits, contact Walzer Melcher LLP.