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Divorce, Marital Misconduct, and One Denver Bronco

By:  Curtis Wiberg

Sometimes a high profile divorce can help teach a lesson on key issues that exist in an everyday Colorado divorce. The divorce proceeding currently underway in Texas involving Denver Bronco wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders is one such case.

Gabriella Sanders filed for divorce in October 2016, in Texas. Within the last two weeks, the website TMZ broke the news that Gabriella Sanders alleges that Emmanuel Sanders committed marital “atrocities,” including spending thousands of dollars on multiple other women for the purpose of having extra-marital affairs. To add to the salaciousness of the allegations, Gabriella claims that Emmanuel lied to the Broncos of needing to be excused from practices in November to attend the birth of his baby when really he wanted time off in order to pursue these sexual relationships.  In fact, Gabriella did not give birth to their baby until the second week of December.

At this point, Gabriella’s allegations are just that – allegations. At the bottom of the linked article above, an Instagram post shows the Sanders family after the December delivery looking very much happier than the court documents filed by Gabriella would indicate. Nonetheless, this high profile case illustrates at least two issues that are applicable in Colorado divorce proceedings.

For one, Colorado is an “equitable” property division state, not an “equal” property division state. While, in many divorces, “equal” is “equitable”, economic misconduct and waste can persuade a Court that a disproportionate split of marital assets is fair.  That is the argument Gabriella appears to be making, namely that Emmanuel needs to reimburse the marital estate for the money spent pursuing his multiple sexual affairs.  Gabriella could be making that same argument here in Colorado, and would likely succeed if she can prove her claims.  Other forms of economic misconduct that could sustain an economic misconduct claim could include gambling losses, expenditures on drugs, damages, and penalties from intentional misconduct or fraud, or attempting to transfer marital property to a friend or family member to attempt to conceal marital assets.  A key aspect of a dissipation or waste argument is also that the actions were made in anticipation of a divorce.

Secondly, as Emmanuel’s Instagram photo shows, this marriage has 2 young children and custody is an issue. To the extent that Gabriella can prove that Emmanuel engages in reckless, multiple sexual affairs, the Court can certainly consider that behavior and to what extent the children could be exposed to that when determining issues related to parenting time, and perhaps decision-making.   Though infidelity alone is not a basis for limiting visitation, a pattern of ignoring the family or children to engage in affairs could tie into one of the factors courts might look at to determine best interest, that being the level of involvement a parent shows.   Moreover, courts can certainly have concerns for a parent who carries on with another person in front of the kids, thereby causing them confusion.

Again, Gabriella could make these same arguments here in Colorado. While Colorado is a “no-fault” divorce state, where either party can obtain a divorce regardless of who is more to blame for the demise of a relationship, when the best interest of the children or the division of property is at stake, your character and poor decisions can potentially be relevant. In other words, “no-fault” divorce is not a license to act in a manner commonly regarded as wrong if you are concerned about your future role as a parent or concerned about preserving your share of marital assets.

From the perspective of this Denver high net worth divorce attorney, it seems that Mr. Sanders has failed to score a touchdown in his divorce case, will likely be stopped at the one-yard line on some issues, and, in fact may   have dropped the proverbial pass, thereby leading the court to yell out, “IN-COM-PLETE!”

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Stephen Plog, co-founder of Plog & Stein, P.C. in 1999, is a dedicated family law attorney with almost two decades of expertise in Denver. Focused exclusively on family law since 2001, he excels in both intricate legal writing and courtroom litigation, having navigated cases in all Denver metropolitan area District Courts. Steve’s comprehensive background, including a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology and a law degree from Quinnipiac University School of Law, underscores his commitment to providing insightful and personalized representation in family law matters.