With the dust barely settled after the fallout from the Hulk Hogan sex tape saga, a new legal battle befalls the mighty world of professional wrestling – the top villain in the WWE, Bray Wyatt, finds himself in the midst of a divorce, as his real-life wife, Samantha, alleges that Bray has had an affair with WWE ring announcer JoJo. Bray and Samantha have been married for five years and have two young children together.
Not to be outdone, Bray struck back with his own counter-petition and seeks an injunction to keep the parties from talking publicly about the divorce, particularly on social media. Bray claims Sam has been defaming him in the community to ruin his reputation and posted a variety of lies on social media to damage his business ventures in the entertainment industry.
Sam counterpunched, claiming Bray simply wants to keep his misdeeds private so the public does not know what kind of man he is in real life.
The legal battle raises a variety of interesting legal questions: What impact will the affair have on the division of property or spousal support? Will the public nature of the affair impact child custody? Does Bray have claims against Sam if his business prospects dwindle by her accusations, true or false? Can Sam blame the WWE for ruining her marriage and recover damages?
If this played out in Missouri, the nature of the affair has no immediate relevance to the divorce because Missouri is a no-fault state – a party need not allege marital misconduct in order to get a divorce. But affairs have to matter at some point, right? That depends on what actually happened.
Courts have become less willing to punish a spouse simply because that spouse decides to end a marriage and pursue another relationship, perhaps because divorce has become so prevalent and adultery has less of a stigma. That said, courts will look at how the affair played out in the marriage and the consequences on the family. So, for instance, if the affair lasted a year or two, and the adulterous spouse secretly spent marital funds on the paramour, whether in gifts like jewelry or trips, the court could at a minimum require all those funds paid back to the other spouse or even consider an inequitable division of property so that the cuckolded spouse receives more than half of the marital assets. Courts will also take into account the impact the affair had on the unsuspecting spouse and the children. If the cheating spouse caused the other spouse documented harm in terms of psychological or physiological damage that required medical treatment, or the children have entered therapy to deal with the shock of these revelations, a court could use that basis to make an inequitable division of marital property.
A judge could also order the adulterous spouse to pay maintenance. This method is authorized by statute, which allows a court to consider the conduct of the parties during the marriage. However, our courts have interpreted maintenance as more of a means of helping a spouse who cannot meet his or her reasonable needs through employment and the marital property awarded. In general, maintenance is not to punish a cheating spouse but to help a lesser earning spouse transition toward self-sufficiency. Because the same statute talks of both misconduct and filling the gap toward reasonable needs, courts have the power to take both approaches.
Looking at Bray and Sam, if the allegations of the affair prove true and Bray expended marital property to have the affair, and given the public humiliation that has followed from the divorce because of the celebrity status of Bray and JoJo, Sam would have a very strong case for an inequitable division of marital property and maintenance. One need only recall Tiger Woods’ divorce from Elin, a product of embarrassing extramarital affairs.
In the next post, we will look at child custody and the business-related claims the parties have raised.
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