How to divorce a sports star

Originally published 12/18/08
Well, the first question I have for you as the lawyer is, did you sign a prenup? The second question is, do you have kids? And the third question is, how long were you married?
If you didn’t sign a prenup, it’s a whole lot better than if you signed one – for you, not for him. But I suspect there isn’t one sports star today who is nuts enough to get his trophy bride without having her sign a prenup first. But there might be a few left. I heard that Tiger Woods did not have his Swedish wife sign a prenup. In which case, I would love to be her lawyer, if ever… you know?
I also heard that Michael Jordon didn’t sign a prenup with his wife Juanita. She was able to walk away from the marriage with $168 million in assets after 17 years of marriage. I would say that for the number of years of marriage (and at least two kids) that was a fair settlement.
Alex Rodriguez and Cynthia Rodriguez got a divorce a few months back, but they had a prenup so it wasn’t so exciting. She tried to set aside the prenup but I don’t think she was able to do so. Although, the couple didn’t go to trial, they settled the case and the terms are under seal so nobody knows exactly what was what. But at stake was Alex’s $275 million ten year Yankee contract, a $12 million dollar home in Miami and custody of two beautiful little girls.
Cynthia got her custody. Obviously, with custody comes child support in addition to alimony. Cynthia reportedly wanted child support, private school tuition and a continued “lavish” lifetyle for her and the girls – and it looks like she got it. She may have gotten the six bedroom Miami mansion and a few other perks. So that was not bad – even though there was a prenup- for six years of marriage.
Shaquille O’Neal was also a sports star with a major bust up from his wife Shaunie O’neal. She allegedly was involved in some financial schemes he didn’t like so he asked for the divorce. He was worth a pretty penny, but he was a smart one. He had a prenup. Shaunie made out okay, but not as well as she could have without a prenup. After all, she had nearly 5 or 6 kids for the man. Between the alimony and child support and equitable distribution she is doing okay, but could have done better without a prenup, after five years of marriage.
The best way to divorce a sports star is to make sure that when you marry him you do not sign a prenup and you get custody of the kids. It helps your “cause” if your marriage has longevity too. So try to stay married as long as possible. Don’t be like Robin Givens who only lasted 8 months. Courts are more generous to long term wives than to those who only last a few months. Although, in Robin’s case, it might have been a good thing she got out when she did.
Just like any other marriage, when you marry a sports star, stay in the know. Don’t let your husband and his accountants handle all the bills and give you an allowance. Take an active role in the financial aspect of the marriage just like any other aspect. It’s a partnership. You are entitled to know everything that is going on as it relates to the partnership so that when the time comes for a divorce – and it usually comes – you know where to start gathering information. And don’t forget to look at any endorsement deals he signed during the marriage. You get a piece of those too.
Be a good mother, above reproach, so that you can get custody of the kids when the divorce occurs. Chances are, with the way he travels, the court will have to think you are a glorified psycho, or something, to NOT give you custody when the divorce occurs. (Not that divorce is inevitable with sports stars, or you getting custody is a foregone conclusion, or anything. But it happens, so always be prepared.) Chances are that if you get custody of the kids you will also get the marital residence (if you want it) since the marital residence usually goes to the parent who gets custody till the kids are emancipated.
Make sure you know about any pensions and other perks that your husband has which are incident to his job. You get a share of anything that was acquired during the marriage. The thing with sports stars is a lot of their income is for future earnings. So he may sign a contract for $200 million with the Yankees, but how much of that is marital property? That is the question. I would think you would have to start by taking a birds eye look at that contract he signed in order to figure out what you are entitled to, in the event there is no prenup.
Try not to be the one at “fault.” It’s a lot better if he is the one who cheated, or abandonned you or whatever. Not only do you want to have a clear conscience for yourself, but you also don’t want to seem like a gold digger. If you only had a short marriage, and you were caught cheating, or misappropriating funds, you won’t look too good. And you don’t need that. You want to emerge from the marriage with peace in your soul. Therefore, do the right thing, let him be the one to mess up, then serve him with the papers and get out of there – if that is what you wish to do.
Make sure you get a good lawyer to represent you in the matter. Obviously, you are probably going to need the court to grant you attorney’s fees since your husband will be a lot better off than you. In New York, you will definitely get attorney’s fees so long as your spouse is significantly better off than you are.
Oh, and one more thing about the prenup. If you signed one, try to have it thrown out. There is usually some basis upon which you can do that. And hey, since he’s paying your attorney’s fees anyway, what do you have to lose?
But read this
Pro-sports’ litigation Lolitas by Debbie Schlussel. She is very harsh on sports wives, I’ve got to say. Ouch!