Equitable Distribution of Sports Memorabilia in Divorce

The Chicago Cubs’ Ben “Zorilla” Zobrist and his wife, singer Julianna Zobrist, are finally starting their divorce trial this week in Tennessee, and the equitable distribution of his sports memorabilia – jerseys, trophies, and rings – is taking center field.

Equitable Distribution Sports Memorabilia

Play Ball

On August 9th, proceedings will begin in the highly publicized divorce trial, and how the marital estate is to be distributed. For months, the duo’s fallout has captured national attention, with shocking details in the news.

Julianna wants an even split of all assets and primary custody of the children, with child support. But interestingly, she also wants an additional $4 million – essentially, the “amount of money he failed to preserve by abruptly and intentionally failing to satisfy his baseball contract.”

The return netted Ben $4.5m of his $12.5 million salary. In April, she was awarded $1.72m from the sale of the couple’s house in Chicago, as well as an additional $772,500 to “purchase a new home as her separate property.”

On the other hand, Ben alleges Julianna overspent from their marital estate— a court order limited her to spending $30,000 per month for living expenses due to exorbitant spending — he’s seeking 60% of the couple’s assets, and believes his sports memorabilia should not be part of the equitable distribution because it’s his separate property.

Worse, Ben argues Julianna’s motive in hiding her affair with their pastor/marriage counselor, was to trick him back into playing baseball so there would be more money for them to divide.

“One would be hard pressed to concoct a more deceitful, sinister, and otherwise inappropriate scheme than wife has devised in this divorce matter“

According to the Tribune, Ben estimates their marital estate is worth $24 million, while Julianna estimates it’s worth nearly $31 million

Florida Equitable Distribution

I have written about equitable distribution in Florida before. In a proceeding for dissolution of marriage, in addition to all other remedies available to a court to do equity between the parties, a court must set apart to each spouse that spouse’s non-marital assets and liabilities.

However, when distributing the marital assets between spouses, a family court must begin with the premise that the distribution should be equal, unless there is a justification for an unequal distribution based on all relevant factors.

In Florida, nonmarital assets include things such as assets acquired before the marriage; assets acquired separately by either party by will or by devise, income from nonmarital assets, and assets excluded as marital in a valid written agreement. Importantly for this baseball player’s divorce, non-marital assets would include sports memorabilia acquired separately by non-interspousal gift.

Foul Ball

The duo filed for divorce after Ben found out Julianna was cheating on him with their pastor Byron Yawn, who was also Ben’s business partner . . . and apparently their marriage counselor!

Ben filed a lawsuit claiming Yawn, who at the time was senior pastor and elder at Community Bible Church in Nashville, provided counseling to the couple before and during their marriage. He is seeking $6 million in damages from Yawn.

Julianna hired a sports memorabilia expert to assess the monetary value of many of the items Ben accumulated during his 14-year Major League Baseball career. The memorabilia includes uniforms, which were given to him by different teams, bats, balls and gloves, some of which were used in games, his World Series and All-Star Game rings, World Series trophies, and a 2016 World Series MVP Camaro gifted to him by General Motors.

The replica World Series trophies are valued at $2,000 each. The Camaro is valued at $30,000. Other items include gifts from teammates and friends such as a Roger Clemens-autographed baseball and a Ted Williams-signed bat.

The issue comes down to whether those items legally should be considered Ben’s “separate property” or part of the marital estate.

Zobrist does not consider sports memorabilia “marital assets” for a few reasons. First, he claims none of his contracts with major-league teams discussed baseball hats, gloves, jerseys, trophies or rings as being part of his compensation and because he has no intention of selling them or doing anything but keeping them as mementos for himself and his family.

He also argues that sports memorabilia are gifted keepsakes from other players during his baseball career. This is a customary practice in baseball and gifts are specifically set out as separate property under Tennessee code.

The Chicago Tribune article is here.

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