Divorce and Family Law Issues for Professional Athletes
Unfortunately, marriages of professional athletes tend to end in divorce more often than ordinary marriages. Estimates place the rate of divorce anywhere between 60 and 80 percent, which makes a lasting marriage the exception rather than the rule. Several reasons may account for this trend. Some athletes marry very young before they mature sufficiently to commit to a long-term relationship. Others marry impulsively and make poor decisions in their choice of partner. The constant travel, unusual schedules, and distinctive lifestyles of professional athletes also put strain on a marriage through no fault of either spouse. Pursuing success in professional sports requires immense time and effort, moreover, which means that an athlete might not have much energy left over to save a marriage that faces difficulties.
Expect a Fight
Since the stakes tend to be higher in divorces involving professional athletes, they are more likely to be contested or at least take longer to settle.
State laws and court procedures do not distinguish between athletes or other celebrities and ordinary people going through a divorce. However, certain issues arise more frequently in divorces involving athletes.
Dividing Property in Divorces Involving Professional Athletes
When a court divides assets between an athlete and a non-athlete spouse, they may need to analyze the contract between the athlete and their team. The basic rule is that future income of either spouse is not subject to division as marital property. If the athlete receives guaranteed future income through their contract, however, this may be considered a marital asset that should be divided between the spouses. Bonuses that go beyond the salary, such as signing bonuses or bonuses for playoff appearances, sometimes may be classified as marital property as well. In addition to payments under the team contract, payments under endorsement agreements may qualify as marital property in some cases. Both the athlete and the non-athlete spouse may retain financial experts to help present their position on classifying and dividing certain assets.
General Rule for Classifying Future Income
When an athlete needs to meet substantial future obligations to get payments from a team or sponsor, those payments likely will be considered separate property and will not be divided in a divorce.
In some sports, such as golf or tennis, an athlete competes individually rather than playing for a team. Future income from their sport is difficult to calculate in these cases, since they do not earn a fixed salary. A court is less likely to find that this future income is sufficiently guaranteed to divide it as a marital asset.
Spousal and Child Support for Professional Athletes
An athlete divorcing a non-athlete spouse may feel concerned that they will need to pay a huge amount of spousal support (alimony) due to the difference between their incomes. If the athlete gets divorced while they are still competing, though, this likely involves a short-term marriage because athletes retire relatively early in life. After a short-term marriage, a court is less likely to award a substantial amount of alimony for an extended term. A young non-athlete spouse, who has not depended on the athlete for many years, can be expected to become financially self-supporting and should not need to rely on alimony indefinitely. The athlete also can argue that they will not receive this level of income permanently, so a court should not calculate an alimony award on this basis.
Most states calculate child support based on certain guidelines involving the incomes of each parent. Some states, such as California, apply the same child support formula to all income groups. This could result in a massive child support obligation for a high-profile athlete. However, child support guidelines generally allow for deviations from the formula in unusual circumstances. If the amount produced by the formula goes well beyond providing for the reasonable needs of a child, an athlete might persuade the court to deviate from the formula.