Deion Sanders Gains Full Custody of Kids in Bitter Divorce

Posted March 14, 2013 in Child Custody and Support Divorce by

Deion Sanders on the set of the NFL Network

Deion Sanders is currently an analyst for the NFL Network

Former football star Deion Sanders on Tuesday was granted full custody of his sons, ages 11 and 13, as part of a bitter divorce from his wife, Pilar. The estranged couple was given joint custody of their 9-year-old daughter.

Sanders, 45, was one of the top defensive backs of all time in the National Football League, and also sustained a 9-year Major League Baseball career during the off-season. His time in the majors included stints with the New York Yankees, Atlanta Braves, Cincinnati Reds and San Francisco Giants.

However, Sanders is chiefly remembered for his NFL career. An electric performer known as “Prime Time,” he played for the Atlanta Falcons, San Francisco 49ers, Dallas Cowboys, Washington Redskins and Baltimore Ravens in a career that spanned 14 seasons and included nine Pro Bowl berths and two Super Bowl championships. He was elected to the football Hall of Fame in 2011.

His personal life has been less successful. Deion and Pilar have been engaged in a two-year divorce battle that turned physical in 2012 after they both were charged with assault following a domestic incident. Deion was granted a restraining order against his wife following the incident, while her request for a similar order against him was denied.

The custody hearing has been marred by ugliness. Last week, Pilar’s attorneys presented a photo of steroids that she said belonged to her husband. Deion walked out of court in a rage, and then claimed that the drugs belonged to his wife, not him.

“I got up and walked out of the courtroom, and I think my response was ‘Oh my God.’ I wasn’t upset by any means, but just dumbfounded, just shocked, that I think I could I take off my shirt and you could Google her pictures and make a designation of who’s doing what,” he said to CBS. “It’s a smokescreen. Let’s take the focus off the parenting and put it on something as idiotic as this.”

Pilar also claimed during the hearing that Deion left guns in reach of their children. Deion shot back that she improperly allowed their daughter to appear in an R-rated movie, and then accused Pilar of operating a phone-sex hotline out of their house.

Woah! That’s quite an accusation, but the jury must have found Neon Deion’s side of the story convincing. Pilar told reporters she was “flabbergasted” by the decision and plans to appeal.

 

Pants on Fire

Alton Abramowitz

At least one party in the Sanders case is not telling the truth, with each accusing the other of being the owner of the steroids. How does lying affect a custody decision?

It’s up to the judge (or, more rarely in custody cases, a jury) to determine who is more credible, and if one or both of the parents are lying, how it reflects on their ability to act in the child’s best interests.

“Some judges subscribe to the theory that all matrimonial litigants lie,” says Alton Abramowitz, president of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers. “I don’t think that’s an appropriate belief. Truth is colored by perceptions, and there are always three perceptions in every case: The husband’s, the wife’s, and the only perception that really counts, the judge’s.”

While judges parse through which parent is lobbing the most shameless falsehoods, they generally try to resolve disputes in a way that allows both parents access to the children. “Courts bend over backwards not to separate parents and children so they don’t see each other,” Abramowitz says. “In normal cases these days, most parents try to agree on some kind of joint custodial or shared living arrangement.”

The judge has a variety of tools to try to keep a rogue parent in line without fully stripping custody, such as requiring supervision of visitation, counseling or drug tests.

However, liars could find themselves in other kinds of hot water: Statements made in family court are considered under oath, so a lying parent could potentially face perjury charges if the fabrications are provable and egregious enough. Defamation and libel are less of a concern since statements made in court are generally protected from liability, unless the name-calling and accusations spill into other venues outside the courtroom.

Unfortunately, sometimes a war between parents overshadows acting in the child’s best interest. “What seems to be missing is an appreciation by both parents that they have to figure out a way to get along,” says Abramowitz. “Because they’re going to be parents to these children for the rest of their own natural lives.”

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