In our previous post, we began discussing the legal issues flowing from the divorce filing involving Bray Wyatt, noted WWE wrestler, and his wife Sam, who alleged Bray had an affair with ring announcer JoJo. In this post, we will first consider the impact of a public affair on child custody.
In Missouri, courts make child custody decisions based on the best interest of the child, but must look at specific statutory factors as well. While our legislature has stated a preference for joint legal and physical custody, where the evidence indicates that arrangement would not work or would not be in the best interest of the child, the court can award one party sole legal and sole physical custody.
Should Sam get sole physical custody because Bray had a public affair and disrupted their family life?
To answer this question, we obviously would need to know more facts. But the mere having of an affair does not lead to sole custody. However, if the children have been devastated by the unfolding of the affair and Bray makes little effort to help the children, the court may find it is in the best interest of the children to stay more with Sam. Parents who have recruited a child to help cover up an affair or otherwise take steps that cause psychological or emotional harm to the child could also find themselves at risk of losing custody. Courts in these difficult situations often appoint a guardian ad litem to represent the interests of the children, and the guardian may try to use counseling and other therapy to help restore the family rather than have one parent as the sole custodian.
Now Bray and Sam both made accusations related to the WWE and the financial consequences of these accusations. Bray sought an injunction to keep all information private so neither party could disclose the specifics of the alleged affair or any other personal peccadillos. Bray feels that this information would paint him in a negative light publicly and hurt his financial future. Bray has a point – Tiger Woods took a hit financially and lost sponsors when his affairs became the talk of the Internet. And if Sam depends on Bray for financial support, why would she want to hurt his future business endeavors? It would seem keeping quiet would be in everyone’s best interest. But Sam may be trying her case in public to force a better settlement, which may seem counterintuitive if you end up ruining Bray’s career. In Missouri, courts will want to protect the privacy of the parties and avoid airing dirty laundry, particularly when children are involved. A court would have no trouble entering a protective order and a gag order in this situation. If Sam continues to bad mouth Bray in the press and on social media, Sam could become subject to a separate tort for intentional interference with a business relationship or, if the allegations are false, defamation.
Finally, Sam feels victimized by the affair. Does she have financial recourse? Once upon a time, most states recognized a tort for alienation of affections that allowed the victim of an affair to recover damages from both the spouse and the paramour, but this tort has been abolished. What about intentional infliction of emotional distress? Unlikely – need to show intent and outrageous behavior, and the private affair would not qualify. What about a claim against the WWE for allowing the affair to happen and/or continue? Creative, but even if the facts supported this claim, Missouri does not recognize such a cause of action.
As you can see from this post and the previous post, one small drama in the WWE has many legal ramifications that have lessons for anyone considering divorce.
If you have questions about divorce, contact us – we can help.