Ownership of the L.A. Dodgers turns on altered marriage agreement

family-law

October 01, 2010

A Los Angeles Court has been asked to decide the validity of a marriage agreement entered into by Los Angeles Dodgers owner Frank McCourt and his now estranged wife of 30 years, Jamie, after Frank bought the Dodgers in 2004. Frank seeks to retain the Dodgers as his exclusive property. The case took an unusual turn, however, when it was discovered that there are two conflicting versions of the marriage agreement, both signed by the McCourts. One version included the baseball team as Frank's separate property in the event of a marriage breakdown. The second version, however, did not.

The lawyer drafting the agreement, a real estate lawyer unfamiliar with California matrimonial law, gave evidence at the trial that he altered copies of the marriage agreement after it was signed by the McCourts, to include the Dodgers as Frank's separate property. Further, he made the change without telling either Frank or Jamie because, he says, both spouses always intended that the team remain Frank's separate property. The lawyer described the omission of the Dodgers from the list of property to be retained by Frank as a mistake in drafting.

Not surprisingly, Jamie now seeks to have the parties' assets, including the Dodgers, divided between her and Frank based on California's community property laws rather than the agreement. Closing arguments were completed this week and the judge is expected to issue a decision in October. It is safe to conclude, however, that the lawyer has learned a lesson in careful drafting of legal documents, and the McCourts a lesson in the importance of taking care in reading them.