Professional athletes and their spouses face a number of complex legal issues when going through a divorce. In addition to the routine issues that arise in lower-profile divorces, professional athletes have a number of other circumstances that need to be addressed.
Division of Marital Assets in a Professional Athlete Divorce
Whether the athlete plays for a team or individually affects how the value of their income is determined. For athletes who play for themselves, such as professional golfers, placing a value on their future income is very speculative. This is because athletes who play for themselves do not earn a fixed salary under a contract. While most athletes play for a team, under a contract, the terms of the contract have a large effect on the division of assets in a divorce. For example, the amount of future payments a professional athlete may be entitled to under their contract requires special attention.
Generally, future income is not subject to division in a divorce; however, contracts with substantial guaranteed income may be subject to division by the court. Signing bonuses, incentive clauses, playoff bonuses, and endorsements also require careful investigation to determine whether those assets will be treated as separate or community property. Generally, the greater the future obligation in terms of appearances or performances, the less likely the court will find that future payments are community property subject to division.
Child Support and Alimony Issues for Professional Athletes
Because of their status, professional athletes are often subjected to extraordinary child support and alimony demands. In California, subject to some somewhat uncommon exceptions (although not as uncommon when dealing with professional athletes) the child support calculation is not limited by income, thus a professional athlete earning $200,000 per month gross, could be subject to upwards of $15,000 or more in monthly child support payments. While the amount calculated under the formula is presumed to be correct, the court may adjust child support obligations for high-income individuals where the monthly payment far exceeds the needs of the children.
Likewise, alimony demands made upon professional athletes may be extraordinarily high. However, it’s important to note that most professional athlete divorces, where the athlete is still competing, are the result of a relatively short-term marriage. This is because the career of a professional athlete is likewise typically very short. As such, high alimony demands for a long duration may be defended against because the professional athlete cannot continue to produce the same level of income indefinitely. It is often the case that professional athletes earn a disproportionate amount of their lifetime income very early in their careers. Additionally, if the spouse is very young, it can be argued that he or she has amply opportunity to get the training and education needed to become economically independent.
Additional Considerations Affecting Pro Athlete Divorces
Whether it's financial issues, parental issues, or more personal ones, including privacy and media relations, professional athletes need to have a qualified attorney who understands their needs.