Jewish World Review Sept. 4, 2002 / 27 Elul, 5762

Tresa McBee

Tresa McBee
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Consumer Reports

The price of success: When being a responsible father is not enough | Teresa Davis hopes for a slam dunk. Corliss Williamson hopes to block her. Only this game is being played on a different court than No. 34 is used to.

Williamson and Davis, mother of their 7-year-old son, were in an Arkansas Circuit Court last week for a hearing on how much the college-turned-pro player should pay in child support.

Which isn't to say Williamson hasn't been paying. He has. From the beginning.

But Davis -- the two never married -- says it's not enough. She wants more. Lots more.

Arkansas' guidelines say a paying parent whose net income is $60,000 or more should pay 15 percent of his income for one child. But, as reported in the Arkansas Democrat Gazette, the Arkansas Supreme Court ruled in 1990 that judges don't have to apply that guideline to all affluent parents. The court upheld a judge's denial of a woman's request for 15 percent of her ex-husband's $300,000 income, instead awarding her the actual amount needed to support their child in addition to her income. How logical.

Fifteen percent of Williamson's income is significant. Under his Detroit Pistons contract, Williamson made $4 million this year, which rises to $4.5 million during next season and $6.5 million by 2007.

At 15 percent, Williamson's payments this year would have been $26,000 per month, increasing to about $30,000 with his next pay raise. Yes, per month. Which still isn't enough. Davis wants $900,000 in back child support.

Who knew 7-year-olds cost so much?

Oh, but they can.

A brief filed by Williamson's attorney says Davis spends $300 to $400 a month on Chasen's clothes at various department stores, such as Dillard's. Other expenses include $300 a month for his shoes, $400 a month on restaurant meals and $400 a month to dry clean their clothes.

"I don't feel that his father should be exempt from having to take care of his son," Davis said in court.

But Williamson does take care of his son.

Chasen was born in August 1995. The next month, Williamson began paying Davis' rent and $850 in monthly voluntary support. In April 1996, he stopped rent payments and increased support to $2,000 a month, raising it to $3,000 six months later and $5,000 in August 2001.

Which added up to $46,000 in payments to Davis last year. Tax-free. On top of the $35,000 she earned as a school teacher before quitting to return to the UA for a second master's degree.

Davis says she needs lots and lots and lots more to possibly save for Chasen's college, even though Williamson has put aside $100,000 for that purpose. If Williamson dies, two trusts would pay Chasen over $7 million. Davis says she needs oodles more to possibly pay for her son's travel to watch his father play, even though most NBA games are played during the school year when a child should be at home securely ensconced in routine, not flying all over the country.

Because Davis doesn't separate child-support payments from other money, Williamson says he's concerned Chasen wouldn't be the one to benefit.

And besides, how much does a 7-year-old need? Williamson says he wouldn't spend even $10,000 on Chasen if he lived with him. He wants his son to learn that money is earned, not free. Considering that Williamson learned such values by working at his family's janitorial service, such a sentiment seems real, not a ploy to avoid adding to voluntary payments he's always made.

That Williamson spends lavishly on restaurants, clothes and limousines is irrelevant to the monetary support he provides his son. Because a father can fork over tens of thousands in support doesn't mean he should.

Payment should be based on the amount it takes to support a child. Otherwise, where's the accountability for women?

In Chasen's case, other than the $635 monthly private-school tuition Davis pays, what else does he need? Not $400 a month in clothing or $300 a month in shoes. No kid grows that fast.

None of this has anything to do with the quality of Davis' parenting, which neither side is quibbling over. It does have to do with a woman who comes off as using her child to increase her bank account while negatively representing her gender and women who actually need more child support.

Williamson, who didn't meet his own biological father until he was a teenager, is to be commended for taking responsibility and financially supporting his son. It's the least to be done for a boy who'll never grow up in the same house as his father because of his parents' selfish choices. A little money or a lot. Doesn't matter. Kids would rather have two parents. Together.

In a 1997 hearing on Davis' case, the original judge said he found it "refreshing" to see both parties getting along so well in such a situation. If only they weren't there to begin with. That would be refreshing.

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JWR contributor Tresa McBee is a columnist for the Northwest Arkansas Times. Comment by clicking here.

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© 2002, Northwest Arkansas Times