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Paternity Ward
Grant Wahl
May 04, 1998
Fathering out-of-wedlock kids has become commonplace among athletes, many of whom seem oblivious to the legal, financial and emotional consequences
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May 04, 1998

Paternity Ward

Fathering out-of-wedlock kids has become commonplace among athletes, many of whom seem oblivious to the legal, financial and emotional consequences

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That figure may move lower in light of a recent decision by the Florida State Supreme Court. In a unanimous ruling on Jan. 29, the court upheld the $5,000 monthly support payments of Phoenix Suns forward Dennis Scott (who earns $3 million a year), less than half the $10,011 sought by the child's mother. The court also ordered that $3,000 of the money each month go directly into a trust fund for the child. In so doing, the court established the precedent that at least in Florida, courts should primarily consider how much is needed to raise a child, not how much a parent can pay.

"Child support is not intended as a vehicle to enable kids to maintain the lifestyle of their father," says Katherine Kinser, a Dallas family lawyer whose clientele includes athletes. "It's intended to reflect the needs of the child, and it's pretty hard to figure out how a one-year-old needs more than $1,200 or $1,500 a month to live on."

Martha Fineman, a professor who specializes in family law at Columbia Law School, says the issue is more complicated than that. "When you talk about investment in a child, it's not just buying the Pampers—it's all the things that go into producing an adult who's a functioning and productive member of society," she says. "You can analogize it to what happens to wives in divorce suits. Should we just look at that amount of support it will take to keep them off of the welfare rolls? Or are they entitled to share in the accumulated wealth?"

This tension was evident in court battles involving Sonics guard Payton and Washington Wizards forward Howard. In 1992, after Kimberly Sparks of Chicago gave birth to Gary Payton Jr. (not to be confused with Gary Payton II, who was born to Payton's future wife, Monique, four months later), Sparks sought 20% of Payton's income in child support. Had Sparks succeeded, her son initially would have received $35,000 per month, and support payments would have risen to $208,333 a month in 1996, when Payton signed a seven-year, $87.5 million contract. Realizing that such an award would be rejected out of hand by a judge, Sparks moderated her demand, and Payton agreed to contribute $5,550 a month in child support, establish a $175,000 college trust fund and purchase a $1 million life insurance policy naming the child as beneficiary.

Howard's case represents the opposite end of the spectrum. In August 1996 he offered to pay $700 a month to Markita Robinson of Detroit after it was determined that he was the father of their son, MarTez D'Shon Robinson. Having just signed a seven-year, $105 million contract, Howard was volunteering to contribute about a nickel for every $100 he earned (excluding endorsements). After rejecting the offer, Robinson, who was intermittently on welfare from the time of the child's birth in February 1992 until December 1995, filed a suit seeking more than $11,000 per month that claimed, "Mr. Howard's initial response...was that the birth was [my] choice and therefore he should not have to pay child support." Howard and Robinson settled out of court and refuse to discuss terms of the agreement.

Occasionally players go to comic extremes to avoid paying support. Glen Schwartz, a Los Angeles family-law attorney, recalls the time he represented a woman seeking child support from a player then with the San Diego Chargers. When Schwartz obtained a court order for a blood test, a player arrived at the lab, where he was fingerprinted and photographed, had blood drawn and was asked to sign his name. But after the player left the lab and climbed into his car, the car didn't pull away. Instead, after five minutes, the player and another like-sized athlete stepped out of the vehicle and returned to the building. "Basically, the defendant had his teammate take the test, and the teammate came back to the car and said, 'Holy s—-, they took my picture, they took my fingerprint. We got busted!' " Adds Schwartz, "Now that player is paying a lot of support every month."

Child-support orders are a sore subject for the athletes hit with them, not only because they mandate large payments but also because the athletes can't control how the money is spent by the mother who receives it. "They'll say, 'I don't mind paying for my kids, but I don't want to pay for her too,' " says Schwartz, who specializes in paternity litigation, representing plaintiffs and defendants. "Also, sometimes the woman has had a kid with another father, so the athlete says, 'Why am I going to be supporting another child that's not mine?' Which, at $10,000 a month, he's going to be doing. The law recognizes that possibility and essentially says, Too bad."

That doesn't sit well with athletes, especially when the children are products of one-night stands and the moms—virtual strangers—are collecting five-figure monthly checks. "If the court system is going to make an athlete pay a substantial amount of money, there should be a contract for women that they can't just take the money and spend it on whatever they want," says a San Francisco 49ers player who has one out-of-wedlock son. "You have to take care of the kid, but with the money that's left over, the women could buy another car or have more kids."

Phillips, one of Kemp's attorneys in the Osuna case, suggests that this happened to his client. "She thought she hit the jackpot when she discovered the pregnancy," says Phillips. "She quit her job [as a law-office manager] immediately and went after Shawn." Phillips estimates that based on Osuna's deposition and her checking-account records, the child received only $3,000 of the first $70,000 Osuna received in support. Says Phillips, "She spent the money on gifts for her family, rent, health clubs and an automobile."

Not so, says Osuna. She says she still lives with her parents in Newport Beach, Calif., drives a 10-year-old Honda CRX and quit work because her pregnancy was difficult. "There's no big living going on here," says Osuna, who gets $5,000 a month from Kemp.

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