Strike!: Interstate Custody and Pro Sports

Chicago Cubs Ben “Zorilla” Zobrist and his wife, singer Julianna Zobrist, have each filed for divorce in separate states on the same day, according to court records. How is a court supposed to figure out which state you should file your divorce in is the place where interstate custody and pro sports collide.

Interstate Custody

Batter Up!

Ben Zobrist filed for legal separation Monday in Williamson County, Tenn., where the couple — married since December 2005 — keep an offseason home in a Nashville suburb.

But, Julianna Zobrist filed in Cook County, Illinois on the same Monday. Julianna, a 34-year-old Christian pop singer, did not provide a reason for seeking a divorce in her petition. She also recently deleted her Twitter account.

Zobrist is a baseball second baseman and outfielder for the Chicago Cubs. He is one of seven players in MLB history to have won back-to back World Series championships on different teams. But being on many teams in different states means that choosing jurisdiction isn’t always easy for professional athletes.

The Zorilla used to play for the Tampa Bay Devil Rays/Rays, his first MLB club and where he spent most of his career. Then he briefly for the Oakland Athletics and Kansas City Royals.

Interstate Custody

I’ve written about interstate custody cases before. Generally, when two parents reside in Florida, Florida custody laws will apply. However, when one of the parents and the child move across state lines, you have an interstate custody problem.

But which law applies? Historically, family law is a matter of state rather than federal law. So, you would look to the state law of Florida, for example, in deciding an interstate case; not Federal law. As will be seen below, there are some conflicts with different state laws.

For various reasons, people travel more. As a result, family law has to take on an interstate, and international component. Accordingly, the conflicts between states can be amplified.

To help with confusion between different laws in different American states, the Uniform Law Commission is tasked with drafting laws on various subjects that attempt to bring uniformity across American state lines.

With respect to family law, different American states had adopted different approaches to issues related to interstate custody, visitation, and time-sharing. The results were that different states had conflicting resolutions to the same problems.

To seek harmony in this area, the Uniform Law Commission promulgated the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (the UCCJEA), which Florida and almost all U.S. states passed into law.

The UCCJEA: Initial Actions

The most fundamental aspect of the UCCJEA is the approach to the jurisdiction needed to start a case. In part, the UCCJEA requires a court have some jurisdiction vis-a-vis the child.

That jurisdiction is based on where the child is, and the significant connections the child has with the forum state, let’s say Florida for this example.

The ultimate determining factor in a Florida case then, is what is the “home state” of the child.

There is a good reason for the ‘home state’ approach under the UCCJEA, which has been adopted by most state laws. That is that Florida – and the other states – all have a strong public policy interest in protecting children in their states.

Foul Ball!

According to the Tennessean, Ben Zobrist’s filing contends that his wife “has been guilty of inappropriate marital conduct which render further cohabitation impossible,” though the article didn’t elaborate.

“Husband is unsure if the marriage can be salvaged,” the filing says, according to the Tennessean.

When asked whether Julianna Zobrist would like to respond to her husband’s assertions, an assistant said, “Not at this time,” and added on behalf of her Chicago-based law firm, “We don’t have any information right now to release to the public.”

The Cubs granted Zobrist, 37, a leave of absence a week ago. Manager Joe Maddon, whose association with Zobrist dates to 2006 with the Rays, wasn’t sure when the valuable infielder-outfielder would return.

The Chicago Tribune article is here.