Beyond The Public Image: Divorce For Sports Professionals

by | Apr 20, 2023 | Divorce

The lifestyle of professional athletes is often commensurate with their contract and any endorsements, licensing, and NIL (name, image, likeness) earnings. Like other high-net-worth professionals, athletes often have a complex portfolio of tangible and intangible assets and liabilities. When facing divorce, their marital estate will be divided following the rules of the state that has jurisdiction over the case.

Statistics indicate a higher divorce rate among professional athletes (greater than 60%) than the national average (less than 50%). Many suggest that the primary contributor to this rate increase is the nexus of:

  • High incomes (especially if combined with low financial discipline);
  • The particular physical and mental stresses associated with athletics;
  • The decreased family time due to intense travel schedules; and
  • Temptations offered by adoring fans.

Regardless of the causes, divorces among professional athletes present some unique challenges. In this article, we will address three of these as well as the most frequently asked questions on divorce for sports professionals:


Don’t Let Divorce Impact Your Game – Talk To Us Today


Marital Estate Division And Alimony


Professional athletes who play in the “big leagues” usually become high-net-worth individuals. In addition to their basic contract pay, which itself is often high, their income streams may include:

  • Signing bonuses;
  • Playoff / championship incentives; 
  • Endorsement deals; 
  • Media and event appearances.

The athlete’s work contracts, including for their primary work or for secondary product endorsements and media or event appearances, pose an interesting question: If those contracts are signed while married, but then the divorce occurs in the middle of their contract period, should the expected future income be considered community property or separate property?

There is no set answer to this question. Generally, if a contract involves “guaranteed income,” then that future income may be considered marital property. Oftentimes, professional sports contracts are written more as “guarantees” are not as “guaranteed.” Meaning that they are tied directly to the athlete’s continued ability to perform his or her job even after the divorce is finalized. If their performance falters for a variety of reasons, their contract may be terminated, and the future income not realized. On that basis, those future earnings may be considered to be separate property.

Spousal support may pose another complication. The athlete’s soon-to-be ex-spouse may expect enough support to sustain the lifestyle they enjoyed in the marriage. They may not consider that principal careers of professional athletes are usually much shorter than other professions, and thus their capacity to maintain substantial alimony payments may likely not last until the traditional retirement age. If not guided by strong legal and financial advisors, the alimony demands may lead to significant financial hardships for both spouses.


Child Support and Child Custody Agreements


Child support payments usually follow formulas located in state law. At times and under certain circumstances, a judge has the discretion to deviate from those formulas. In the case of child custody or support for professional athletes, such a deviation may be necessary.

The relatively high incomes of professional athletes project an image that they can afford to pay out enormous amounts of money in child support. As noted above, that projection is likely not to be true in the long term. When an athlete’s sports career ends, their income may diminish significantly, and with it, the ability to sustain those support payments.

A pro athlete’s often unusual and heavily seasonal work schedule may also create problems in developing a child custody agreement. The parents will need to establish a visitation plan that ensures the needs of the children are met, but can also accommodate the demands of the athlete’s job.


Managing Public Availability of a Pro Athlete’s High-Profile Divorce


The celebrity status of pro athletes means they may have little privacy. Anything they say and do may potentially end up as a news headline. The public seems to be especially interested if they experience a divorce.

Aside from all of the media attention an athlete’s divorce may receive, court proceedings and court pleadings are typically a matter of public record. In the State of California, copies of divorce certificates and decrees are generally available only to ex-spouses or their attorneys. The actual court records of the case (the case file), which could include a significant amount of personal information, are available to anyone who desires them.

A “collaborative divorce” may minimize the amount of information that is available in that case file to be determined on a case-by-case basis. In a collaborative divorce, the parties come to a settlement privately between themselves, their attorneys, and an independent mediator. Their meetings are behind closed doors, and the contents of those meetings are kept confidential. Once all parties agree, only the settlement document is given to the judge for certification and entry into the public divorce record.

If the divorce cannot be mediated privately, it is possible to have a part or all of the case redacted or removed completely from the record. An attorney for one of the parties must first submit a motion to strike or seal the part of the record they want hidden. If compelling evidence is provided to support it, the judge may grant the motion. The affected part of the case file will be unavailable for later public scrutiny.


We are on your team


We understand Pro Athletes’ unique divorce challenges. Our divorce attorneys at Hoover Krepelka are fully versed in all family law matters relating to high-profile divorce cases for sport professionals. We encourage you to contact us today for a consultation. Fill out the form below to get in contact with us today.

Your Future Matters. Start Your Divorce with Confidence



Divorce For Sport Professionals FAQs

Can my athletic earnings be divided in a divorce?

Yes, in most cases, earnings acquired during the marriage, including athletic contracts and endorsements, are considered community property and may be subject to division during divorce.

How can I protect my athletic career during a divorce?

To protect your athletic career, it’s essential to work with an experienced family law attorney who understands the unique financial aspects of professional sports. Consider a prenuptial or postnuptial agreement to outline asset protection strategies prior to any possible divorce.

What happens to sponsorship deals and endorsement contracts in a divorce?

Sponsorship and endorsement contracts may be considered community property. They can be subject to division, and their terms may need to be revisited during divorce proceedings.

Will my ex-spouse be entitled to a portion of my future earnings from sports contracts signed after the divorce?

Generally, future earnings from sports contracts signed after the divorce are considered separate property, but may be income available for child support and/or spousal support. However, this can vary depending on jurisdiction and specific circumstances.

How can I determine the value of my sports-related assets for property division?

Valuing sports-related assets can be complex. It’s advisable to work with experienced financial experts who specialize in athlete wealth management to ensure an accurate assessment of property.

Can child custody arrangements accommodate my sports schedule?

Child custody arrangements can be tailored to accommodate your sports schedule. The court may consider flexibility in visitation and custody to ensure your career is not hindered, while also recognizing that children benefit from stability and routine in their schedules.

Are child support payments impacted by my sports income?

Child support payments are typically determined based on income, including sports-related earnings, and the parties’ respective parenting time with the child(ren). Accurate financial disclosures from both parties are crucial to ensuring fair child support calculations.

What impact does my sports career have on spousal support (alimony)?

Your sports career and income can impact spousal support calculations. Courts consider many factors when determining the amount and duration of alimony, including the financial circumstances of both spouses, the length of the marriage, and the standard of living enjoyed during the marriage.

Can my ex-spouse obtain a share of my sports memorabilia or collectibles?

Sports memorabilia and collectibles acquired during the marriage may be considered community personal property and subject to division, similar to other assets.

How can I maintain privacy and discretion during a high-profile sports professional divorce?

Maintaining privacy can be challenging, but legal strategies such as using private mediation or arbitration instead of court litigation can help protect your privacy during a high-profile divorce

*The above is not meant to be legal advice, and every case is different. Feel free to reach out to us at Hoover Krepelka, LLP, if you have any questions. Information contained in this content and website should not be relied on as legal advice. You should consult an attorney for advice on your specific situation. 

Visiting this site or relying on information gleaned from the site does not create an attorney-client relationship. The content on this website is the property of Hoover Krepelka, LLP and may not be used without the written consent thereof.


Pin It on Pinterest

Share This