Why Every Athlete Needs a Family Lawyer
by Patrick Upton and Kristopher Hufstetler
Taking the next step from collegiate athletics to professional athletics is an incredible opportunity, but also a massive undertaking. It is often the case that athletes rely on a team of representatives to guide them through this transition. In many ways, taking that next step is about training for life. A life-changing increase in income mixed with youth and inexperience is something that is better off when managed, not simply left to chance. Frankly, it is simply unfair to expect that anyone, much less someone with a heightened level of public scrutiny like a professional athlete, should be able to navigate the process of estate management, legacy protection, and family planning on their own. And it’s simply absurd to expect someone to manage that process during a high-income career that often comes to a screeching halt before the age of 30. Below are some important reasons for athletes to consult with a family lawyer prior to entering the world of professional athletics.
Prospective Protection Limits Exposure
One of the major differences from being a collegiate athlete and a professional athlete is the creation and maintenance of an image or brand. Right or wrong, because of a heightened level of public scrutiny, the transition into professional athletics requires athletes to be more thoughtful than most people about how different aspects of their lives fit within their brand. Athletes are forced to think about how regular life events expose their brands to the risk of damage. Athletes who have that knowledge and take steps to prospectively limit exposure are better equipped to protect their brand, and thus, their livelihood.
A professional athlete can call a family lawyer after their spouse files for divorce like a lot of people do. The problem is when most people file for divorce, the general public has little to no interest in those divorce proceedings. For a professional athlete, there will most certainly be publicity regarding the divorce. If an athlete hires a family lawyer prior to the marriage, the lawyer can limit exposure to the athlete’s brand in the event of a divorce in the future. For example, the family lawyer can prospectively protect the assets and income of the athlete with a premarital agreement. In community property states, the lawyer can often limit, or prevent entirely, the creation of a community estate. In effect, what the lawyer can do is narrow the scope of the divorce proceedings, which in turn can limit the issues before a court, limit the amount of time the athlete’s divorce is exposed to the 24-hour news cycle, and limit the impact the divorce proceedings may have on the athlete’s brand and livelihood.
There is no shortage of stories regarding professional athletes and massive child support payments or past-due child support. A simple Google search on the subject provides an endless amount of fluff pieces on athletes with large child support payments and past due child support. Hiring a family lawyer who can effectively navigate the complexities of child support in the realm of professional athletics is crucial. When many athletes have professional careers that are often less than 10 years, an athlete needs a family lawyer to manage the transition of paying child support when that income stream comes to an abrupt halt. Left unsupervised, an athlete is exposed to high child support payments without the income stream to fund the payments.
There are numerous stories regarding athletes with past due child support, including Terrell Owens, Dwight Howard, Amar’e Stoudemire and Antonio Cromartie. If an athlete hires a family lawyer to manage child support payments and the transition into a stage of life with significantly reduced income, the lawyer can prospectively limit the exposure to the athlete’s brand, which can reduce the impact of (or entirely prevent) any public narrative regarding unpaid child support. This limitation on exposure is crucial in protecting the athlete’s other business dealings. Right or wrong, an athlete with a public narrative of past due child support risks being framed in negotiations as the needier party with a weaker negotiating position. An athlete who has failed to limit that exposure will weaken their negotiation positions in outside ventures such as endorsements, broadcast positions, television deals, and acting roles.
For athletes, because of heightened publicity, there will always be risks of exposure for their brands. Athletes who take steps to prospectively manage that exposure will have the best success in protecting their brands and livelihoods because they’ve been proactive in managing that exposure rather than simply reacting to major life events.