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NBA team owners' troubles raise issues of divorce law

Many Texas sports fans were outraged when an NBA team owner was recorded making offensive racist comments. As the fallout continues from that incident, the legal complications have included a glimpse into some little-understood aspects of divorce law.

The NBA has banned Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling from its activities and is trying to force him to sell the team. However, one stumbling block in the way of forcing a sale is Sterling's wife, and the couple's possible divorce.

To those following the story, it is perhaps not surprising that Sterling's wife has signed papers to dissolve their long marriage. However, she is reportedly holding off from filing the paperwork until the fight over the ownership of the team is resolved.

The wife has a 50 percent ownership stake in the team, and she reportedly wants to keep it no matter what happens. If the couple divorces, their stake in the team would likely be considered part of their marital property, and thus would be subject to asset division in the divorce. This action would undoubtedly interfere with the NBA's plans to force a sale. Indeed, some observers theorize that the threat of a divorce is just a negotiating tactic the Sterlings are using in the fight to keep the team.

Asset division is the process at the end of any marriage by which the parties divide their marital property. Few who have been through the process would describe it as easy, but it's relatively straightforward to divide checking or savings accounts, or other assets that can be easily valued and divided in half. For assets that are harder to assign a value, such as stock options or ownership in a business, asset division can be much more difficult. For this reason, high net worth divorce can be more time-consuming and involved than other types of divorce.

While the Sterlings' marital and business drama is extremely unusual in many ways, it does reflect problems that come up in more typical Texas divorces. When a business is part of the marital property in a Texas divorce, both parties deserve a share of its value. A Texas family law attorney with experience in complex property division can fight to help clients get a settlement that is fair and sets them on the path to an independent financial future.

Source: USA Today, "Shelly Sterling is holding back signed divorce papers," Brent Schrontenboer, May 14, 2014

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