Many will recall the fervor in the press and social media in 2014 when former Los Angeles Clippers owner and real estate mogul Donald Sterling was forcefully removed from his ownership position and banned for life by the National Basketball Association (NBA) based on hateful, bigoted and racist remarks made by Sterling and secretly recorded by his purported paramour, V. Stiviano that were leaked to the media by an unknown source.
During much of the follow-up investigation of Donald Sterling and Stiviano’s relationship, it came to public light that Donald Sterling had been providing generous financial support to Stiviano. Further, Donald Sterling’s wife, Shelly Sterling, had filed a lawsuit against Ms. Stiviano approximately one month before Mr. Sterling’s racist remarks were leaked. Shelly Sterling’s lawsuit alleged essentially that Donald Sterling had provided Stiviano approximately $3 million dollars of the Sterling’s marital property in the form of real estate and cash without Shelly Sterling’s consent. While many are skeptical as to whether Donald Sterling and Stiviano ever had an intimate relationship, it became clear during both the media investigation and lawsuit that Donald Sterling had been very generous to Stiviano, giving her gifts including a home, cash, and luxury automobiles.
The Sterlings reside in California, which is a “community property state” and the Sterlings remain married as of today.
Shelly Sterling proceeded with her lawsuit on the theory that since Shelly Sterling did not consent to the gifts Mr. Sterling gave to Stiviano, and because the gifts were marital community property assets, that Stiviano must return all of the assets to the Sterlings. Stiviano’s attorneys made the counter-argument based on Stiviano’s testimony and Ms. Sterling’s purported own admission in a 2014 interview that the Sterlings were “estranged” and lived “separate and apart.”
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Richard Fruin, in an opinion released on April 15, 2015, sided with Shelley Sterling, and ordered that Stiviano return $2.6 million dollars, finding as fact that the Sterlings did not live “separate and apart” and that Donald Sterling had concealed the gifts made to Stiviano.
While Florida law varies from California in many respects, a party in Florida who engages in extramarital relationships, whether physically separated from their spouse or not and whether those relationships are intimate or not, would be surprised to learn that there can be severe financial and legal ramifications to such a relationship upon the dissolution of marriage, especially where it can be proven that marital funds were used to further the extramarital relationship. If you have any questions about the impact a potential course of conduct has had or may have in the future, do not hesitate to schedule a consult with our firm.
New York Times April 15, 2015, by Reuters “Alleged Mistress of Ex-NBA Owner Ordered to Repay $2.6 Million”