Love And Baseball And Divorce And Money
As the pennant races come into sharper focus, and the Marlins appear to be in contention for at least a wild card playoff spot, it is a good time to reflect back on the time that family law and baseball came together in Southern California.
When Frank and Jamie McCourt bought the Los Angeles Dodgers, years of consistent under-performance on the field had reduced attendance, and the franchise’s value along with it. Then-commissioner Bud Selig eventually lost confidence in the McCourt’s ability to run the franchise, and essentially appointed a receiver to make baseball and financial decisions. But the crisis worsened, and in June 2011, the owners needed an emergency loan to make payroll for the month.
The team filed for bankruptcy protection in August, just about the time that the McCourt’s divorce case was scheduled to go to trial. The trial was cancelled, and at roughly the same time, Jamie McCourt signed a property agreement that gave Frank McCourt exclusive control over the team in exchange for roughly $200 million in other property considerations.
However, only a few years later, after the arrival of several high-profile players and a few playoff runs, the franchise’s value skyrocketed and Mr. McCourt sold the team for a then-record $2.15 billion. Since she was now roughly $900 million short of a 50-50 split, Ms. McCourt sued to overturn the property agreement she signed, claiming that it was involuntary and was clearly unconscionable.
Challenging Prenuptial Agreements
Both California and Florida have adopted the Uniform Premarital and Marital Agreements Act, both jurisdictions apply the same law to resolve similar disputes.
Ms. McCourt argued that the agreement was involuntary. She did not mean that Mr. McCourt pressured her into signing, because most courts practically require a showing of physical coercion, e.g. locking the door and not allowing the party to leave the room until s/he signs. Instead, Ms. McCourt contended that her then-husband withheld documents about the franchise’s value, and therefore she could not accurately assess whether or not the deal was favorable. But the court disagreed with her assessment, because Mr. McCourt had turned over 220,000 pages of documents, Ms. McCourt was represented by counsel, and at the time, she owned half the team.
Her other argument was that the deal was unconscionable. While “unconscionable” is not synonymous with “uneven,” any accord that leaves one party almost $1 billion short of a 50-50 split is clearly much more than simply “uneven.” But the court determined that the agreement was not unconscionable when it was made. In 2011, the team was almost literally worthless, and “Jamie simply chose the security of a guaranteed $131 million payment, plus more than $50 million in real and personal property, over the uncertainty and risk presented by the valuation and sale of the Dodger assets.”
Adding insult to injury, at least as far as Ms. McCourt was concerned, the court ordered her to pay $1.9 million to her ex-husband as reimbursement for attorneys’ fees.
Rely on Experienced Attorneys
For prompt assistance with a prenuptial agreement or other family law matter, contact an experienced family law attorney in Port St. Lucie. At Eighmie Law Firm, P.A., we offer after hours appointments.