If you follow Seattle Seahawks football, you probably heard the crazy story that just broke about former Seahawk safety Earl Thomas. With no live sports, save Korean baseball and that faux-Kentucky Derby, sports media was all over this story. To be fair, they probably would have reacted in a similar way regardless. It has everything the media loves; sex, money, and violence.
However, if you don’t know the story, it’s a doozy. On May 6, TMZ reported that the Baltimore Ravens star’s wife held him at gunpoint after catching him with another woman. And not just another woman, other women.
According to the report, on April 13, 2020, Thomas’ wife, Nina, tracked him, via his Snapchat account, to an Airbnb near their Austin, Texas home. There, she discovered her husband and his brother, Seth Thomas, in bed with multiple women. There’s reportedly cellphone video of her pointing a gun at Thomas’ head, safety off, finger on the trigger, from roughly a foot away.
Thomas was able to wrestle the gun away from Nina, though she struck him in the nose at some point, and threatened other people present. One of the women who accompanied Nina also brandished a knife and made threats. The police showed up and arrested Nina and her entourage. Though she later made bail, Thomas also filed with a restraining order against her.
Fortunately, no one was seriously injured. Though this is bound to have a major impact on their relationship and marriage.
From a family law perspective, this presents a ton to chew on. As a local expert in this field, and a huge sports fan, Goldberg Jones founding partner Rick Jones appeared on the Puck Show on 950 KJR. There’s a lot of ground to cover, and the conversation touched on divorce, custody, jurisdiction, the role of social media, and more.
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Jurisdiction and Fault vs. No-Fault Divorce
While nothing has been filed, at least not that we know of, people already started speculating about a possible divorce. One of the first questions Rick fielded was about who has jurisdiction. It doesn’t matter where they were married, what matters is where the couple currently resides. Earl Thomas was married in Texas in 2016, where he’s from and where he and Nina still live in the offseason.
Divorce laws vary drastically from state to state, and that has a huge impact on a divorce case.
On the air, Rick uses the example of Washington. Washington, like most states, is a no-fault divorce state. This means neither spouse has to prove the other was to blame for the end of the marriage. While this situation may impact a custody hearing, adultery, in this case, doesn’t affect how they split the money, property, and the rest.
However, if they file for divorce in Texas, that’s a different situation. As Rick says:
“Texas law applies, and it becomes a night and day difference because Texas is a fault state. So, both sides get to make the argument, not only about custody, like in Washington, but about dollars and cents as well. And [they’ll] be able to say, ‘Listen, this person is at fault, that’s why this [marriage] broke up, I should get more of the money.’…Fault in the relationship is relevant to the discussion of a settlement.”
Because of the infidelity, and the jurisdiction, Thomas may be in an unfavorable position should the couple divorce. But as Rick points out, the criminal charges against Nina could also play a major role and even “land her in jail for a bit.”
That said, determining fault in divorce presents complications. If the Thomases do divorce, and if they go to court, with all the surrounding issues, it’s bound to be a back-and-forth case. Think of it as a tennis match, one attorney serving up a point and the other returning in kind.
Related Reading: The Importance of Jurisdiction in Divorce
Social Media and Divorce
Part of what led to this confrontation is that Nina was able to track her husband via social media. This presents a problem earlier generations didn’t face. It offers a level of temptation and opportunity that didn’t exist before. As Rick says, if you just look at the pictures, everyone but you is “living the perfect life.”
What you post on social media often has a real-life impact, whether you expect it or not. In this case, Snapchat revealed Earl Thomas’ infidelity, as well as his location. When it comes to divorce and custody, it also often plays a part. Rick added:
“One of the first things we do when we take a case is we check out the social media of the other party. Sometimes they step in it.”
This isn’t necessarily a call to scrub everything clean—that can leave a “residue,” like an eraser. And in the case of a public figure like Earl Thomas, people often keep track of what they post. Still, think about what you put out into the world for all to see. Rick continues:
“[It’s] less about trying to rewrite history and more about saying, ‘Okay, let me draw a line in the sand now and I’m not going to do anything stupid; I’m not going to put anything stupid on social media.’”
What you post often comes back to haunt you. If you say you can’t afford child support payments, but post pictures of expensive purchases or lavish vacations, that reflects poorly on your case. In a custody case, the same goes for sharing things that potentially show you create an unsafe environment for your kids.
It’s all about perception. In a divorce, you often find yourself in a heated legal conflict. If the opposition can portray something as negative or damaging, you can bet they will.
Related Reading: How Social Media Impacts Divorce
Criminal Charges and Custody
Nina obviously faces serious criminal charges. She allegedly broke into a home, brandished a firearm, and threatened her husband and others. Right now, the charges include assault and residential burglary. For her part, however, she claims she the police “wrongfully arrested” her, and her attorney denies the accusations.
It’s an ongoing criminal case, but one that could influence a future divorce. Again, that’s speculation, but it certainly won’t surprise anyone.
Thomas could potentially use this in a custody case. The couple has three children. This incident might serve as an illustration of instability or used to cast Nina’s parenting ability in a negative light. In these situations, the best interests and wellbeing of any children take precedence. Criminal activity certainly factors into such a scenario.
These are pending criminal charges that carry substantial possible jail time. Rick, however, doesn’t think Nina will serve anything near the potential maximum. While not a full defense, she could argue that this was a crime of passion, that she was pushed to this act by emotional distress.
Again, we don’t know how any of Earl Thomas’ facts will play out. Still, it shines a light on many areas of family law. Jurisdiction, criminal charges, social media, protection orders, and more. These are all common issues people deal with in divorce, and while not usually on this scale or in such a public forum, they are things to be aware of in your own case.