Could divorce be used to stall a sale of the Los Angeles Clippers?

Most of the news coverage concerning the National Basketball Association is currently dedicated to the playoffs, which recently saw our Dallas Mavericks lose in seven games to in-state rival the San Antonio Spurs. However, media outlets have also been working overtime to cover the story surrounding controversial Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling.

To recap, a popular gossip website leaked an audio recording of Sterling making a series of racist comments several weekends ago. In response, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver handed Sterling a $2.5 million fine and, far more significantly, a lifetime ban from the league.

Sports analysts indicate that the next step will now be for team owners to hold a vote to decide whether Sterling should be forced to sell his team, something that can be accomplished with two-thirds of the vote.

Not surprisingly, many legal strategists are currently debating the steps that Sterling, himself an attorney with a lengthy history of filing lawsuits, will take in the event of the — now very likely — move to force him to sell his team.

One of the more interesting — and certainly very plausible — theories is that Sterling will use the divorce process as a means of avoiding a sale of the Clippers.

How exactly would this work?

If Sterling or his estranged wife files for divorce, it would give a California family court oversight of the franchise as the former couple attempts to work out the division of all their community property, something that would undoubtedly serve to postpone the NBA’s forced sale.

(Like Texas, California is a community property state, meaning that in general any property obtained during the marriage is split 50/50 in terms of ownership interest between spouses.)

“If somebody is looking for a litigation strategy, and they want to slow down a forced sale by the league, you file for divorce so you get more people involved arguing over it,” said one family law attorney. “Getting the family court involved in it would create another layer of complexity to the sale and another set of lawyers who would be trying stop it from getting sold.”

Something that could further complicate and delay the matter, say experts, is the fact that the Clippers are owned by a family trust, which also names his estranged wife.

It remains to be seen what tack Sterling, who has significant assets at his disposal, will take. Stay tuned for updates.

Consider speaking with an experienced attorney to learn more about your rights and options as they relate to divorce-related issues like complex property division and spousal support.

Source: USA Today, “Donald Sterling could use divorce to avoid Clippers sale,” Brent Schrotenboer, May 2, 2014