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Sports Schedule or Custody Schedule? Unexpected Conflicts for Athletes Resuming Play

Evan ScheinEvan Schein

Evan Schein

4 min read

After months of speculation and preparation, the NBA finally rolled out its plan to restart the season on July 30, 2020, at Disney World in Orlando. The league and the players have been in talks for months negotiating the logistics of the return of basketball – regular season and postseason schedule, player salaries, and coronavirus protocols. Given these unprecedented times, the NBA has allowed that for the remaining of this year, players who wish to sit out the season could do so. They would forfeit their pay but not their spots on the team, and they would face no other consequences. In return, the team could sign replacement players for the season. The players’ decisions are expected by the end of today, June 24th.

While it is expected that most NBA players will return to the court, a handful of NBA players have opted out already. It is Trevor Ariza, starting forward for the Portland Trail Blazers, who is making headlines. Per ESPN, Ariza “has been involved in a custody case over his 12-year-old son, and the mother’s decision to grant a court-ordered, one-month visitation period during the league’s quarantine of teams in Orlando, Florida, led Ariza to choose his parenting responsibilities over competing with the Blazers in the 22-team restart.”

Ariza’s case caught my eye because he is the only one to cite ongoing custody litigation as a reason not to play – but my guess is that he may not be alone. After all, summer is typically the off-season for the NBA, and Ariza is not the only player with kids. Likely, there are a lot of players right now whose parenting plans simply didn’t account for a literal change in the sports schedule.

Special considerations regarding custody when you’re a professional athlete

Every professional sports league has its own season. Players know when spring training and preseason starts and ends, as with the regular season and postseason schedule. If you’re an NBA player, you know that by June, you’re done with traveling, games, and practices for a least a few months. If you’re a parent, your custody schedule is likely designed around the sports schedule and when you will be home and able to spend meaningful time with your kids.

But things are different now, and the off-season months you might have had with your children will be spent on the road. Unless you are able to reach an agreement or seek to modify that custody order – and certainly, you could make a good argument that there is a significant material change in circumstances, here – you may be in the position of Trevor Ariza.

It is worth noting the ripple effects on issues like child support or spousal maintenance, based on the decisions athletes make on whether or not to resume their seasons, too. Whether or not athlete endorsement deals will be affected is yet to be seen, but it’s hard to imagine that sponsors will be banging down the doors of non-playing athletes to promote their latest products.

You need a family law attorney who can anticipate these types of situations

Professional athletes usually have a team of advisors on their side. They likely have attorneys to handle things like endorsement deals and contracts – but how many have a lawyer who would’ve been thinking about the possible change in a custody agreement or order the minute the season shut down?

Because here’s the truth: if you’re a parent, there is no off-season. There’s no set schedule. Having kids means living in a world in flux every day, so working with an attorney who understands both family law and the lives of professional athletes is important. An athlete’s team of trusted advisors should include a family lawyer who also understands how the choices that professional athletes make can affect an athlete’s brand, as well as the optics surrounding ongoing family law litigation. My job, like yours, is to keep my eye on the ball and make sure that we’re at least three steps ahead at all times.

For more information, contact Berkman Bottger Newman & Schein, LLP. A former sports agent, Mr. Schein leads the sports-oriented family law practice at the Firm, and works with athletes and entertainers.

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