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Professional Athletes and Child Support Obligations

Recently, Dodger’s Star Carl Crawford was brought back into court because the mother of his child requested to temporarily raise his child support payment from $5,000 a year to a “reasonable” $15,000 per month. The judge has yet to rule, but if approved, this would mean that Mr. Crawford would be paying a total of $189,000 per year in child support for two children.

Over the last several years, professional athletes are being embraced by the media and paparazzi culture and this has had a positive effect in terms of increasing player earnings. It is common now for athletes to obtain top dollar sponsorships and increase their earnings. In addition, athlete salaries have also increased, thereby increasing earnings in general. As a result of these changes many athletes are targeted by the opposite sex in order to obtain child support.

Child support in California is guideline based, meaning that the California legislature has come up with a mathematical formula that takes into account the mother and father’s gross salaries and percentage of time the parties spend with the child in calculating the appropriate amount of child support. In addition, the court can also consider medical expenses, child support paid to other children, spousal support paid to former spouses and various other factors. Child support obligations can therefore easily run into six-figures for a professional athlete. This can have a negative impact on the athlete and result in reducing his or her performance through mental and emotional anguish.

How can athletes protect themselves or limit their exposure to child support obligations?

The first step is to actually establish whether the child is the athlete’s child. A DNA test can easily determine this and can be requested through a parentage action (also known as a paternity action). If it is determined that the athlete is the biological parent of the child, then the athlete should also seek to enforce as much visitation or if possible, establish primary physical custody over the child. The court will generally look to the best interests of the child in determining the appropriate custody arrangement.

In addition, if there are any decreases in the athlete’s salary, counsel for the athlete should file a petition immediately with the court to reduce child support based on a decrease in income. Child support obligations will generally terminate when the child reaches 18 years old. In some states, if the mother remarries and the spouse adopts the child, even though he is not the biological father, the athlete may not be responsible for the child support.

Deviation from Guideline Child Support

The state guidelines were created with more traditional income levels in mind. Therefore, the attorney that an athlete retains must be proficient in presenting adequate evidence to the court to support a deviation from the child support guidelines. This means that the attorney must convince the court that although the guideline calculations state “x” amount is payable in child support, the court should deviate from those guidelines and instead order “y”, which is a lower amount.

The court will generally deviate from guideline child support if it finds that assigning guideline support would be unjust or inappropriate due to special circumstances. One of the grounds that the attorney representing the athlete can bring up is that the parent being ordered to pay child support has an extraordinarily high income and the amount determined under the formula would exceed the needs of the children. For example, although guideline child support may state $15,000 is owed per month, the attorney must present a good case of how this amount is clearly excessive in light of the child’s needs and expenses.

If you are a professional athlete and you are facing a divorce, child custody, or child support matter, you should retain an attorney that is experienced in these matters. Please contact Sanjay A. Paul, Esq., at (626) 325-0770 for a consultation.

Disclaimer: This is not intended to be legal advice. Please consult with a lawyer about the facts of your case.