SAN DIEGO, July 8, 2013 – Professional athletes don’t like losing, whether it’s football or in the game of love. It still hurts no matter how rich or famous you are. But can you sue someone for being a gold digger?
Buffalo Bills player Mario Williams, the single highest paid defensive player in football with a six year, $100-million contract, filed a lawsuit against his ex-fiancée Erin Marzouki in Harris County Court, Houston in May to get back the engagement ring he gave her before she kissed him off.
Williams claimed in his lawsuit that Marzouki ended the relationship less than a year after she accepted the $785,000 engagement ring but never intended to become his wife.
“Defendant never intended to marry plaintiff and used the relationship as a means to get to plaintiff’s money and acquire gifts. Defendant has absconded with the diamond engagement ring. Plaintiff has demanded that defendant return the diamond engagement ring, but defendant has failed and refused to do so,” states the complaint. Williams also claims his ex-fiancee ran up $108,000 of charges on his credit card and accepted additional luxury gifts from him in excess of $230,000.
Erin Marzouki filed a countersuit calling Williams’ claims “ridiculous” and “patently false,” pointing the finger at Williams for breaking off the engagement.
The former couple and their attorneys failed to mediate the dispute. So now the gloves are off as well as the ring.
Marzouki’s lawyer, Tony Buzbee, described Williams as someone who experienced “dramatic mood swings” throughout the engagement. Buzbee then released the texts of a conversation on November 11 last year from his client’s phone in an effort to show how despondent Williams was over their breakup.
In one text, Williams wrote: “No money in the world should leave me with suicidal thoughts.”
Williams now says he was “venting” his feelings, and denied having any mental health issues. Concerns over professional athletes’ mental health have become a high-profile issue in the NFL. Former star linebacker Junior Seau committed suicide a year ago following a painful divorce. Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher fatally shot his girlfriend before killing himself.
Williams asked why Marzouki didn’t report the texts at the time if she was so concerned about his state of mind. Williams says he doesn’t regret filing the lawsuit, and said he’s not affected by the accusations.
So what’s the law? Engagement rings fall under property, contract or family law, and how they are treated varies by state. In many states including California and Texas where Williams filed his lawsuit, it depends on who broke the engagement. If the person who received the ring is the one who is breaking things off, he or she must give back the ring.
But here’s a twist: many courts say giving an engagement ring on a birthday or a holiday, such as Christmas or Valentine’s Day, makes the ring a simple gift – and that means the recipient gets to keep it no matter what, because the implied promise of marriage isn’t involved. It’s just a nice present. Another good reason I advise people NOT to give an engagement ring as a holiday gift. In Williams’ case, he bought the ring on December 12, and gave it on February 19. Was it a Valentine’s Day gift? This is legally significant.
Far be it from me to make light of anyone’s state of mind, especially during an emotional situation. But even for a divorce attorney who’s seen nearly every bit of bad behavior between people who say they once loved each other, this lawsuit by Williams is idiotic.
Williams is making plenty of money. He’s not going to be hurting like most of us would if we purchased a diamond engagement ring that costs as much as a nice suburban home. He should look at it as an expensive lesson learned.
Williams doesn’t really want the ring back. He wants to punish Marzouki for humiliating him. Calling out a woman for being a gold-digging “B” in such a public way probably doesn’t carry the stigma it did before TV shows like “Millionaire Matchmaker.” But it’s no fun to have to cough up the money to defend yourself in court against this sort of nonsense.
The one who is humiliating himself is Williams. He also has to deal with the court of public opinion as a public figure. Now that training camp for most NFL teams is right around the corner, the Buffalo Bills can’t be too happy that their big money star is better known for his off the field problems, than his on the field skills. In the end this could end up costing him a lot more in lost endorsement opportunities and fan sympathy than getting back a ring he never should have bought in the first place.
Mario, you should have read Lawyer Myra’s column: A ring does not a marriage make.
The rest of you still have time.
Myra Chack Fleischer serves as Lead Counsel for Fleischer & Ravreby in Carlsbad, California with a focus on divorce, property, custody and support, settlement agreements, mediation, asset division and family law appeals. Read more Legally Speaking in Communities Digital News. Follow Myra on Twitter: @LawyerMyra.
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