Understanding the legal agreements, sometimes dubbed 'mistress contracts,' that the wealthy sometimes ask their companions to sign
As the twisted saga of Donald Sterling continues to unfold, attention has fallen on Sterling’s female companions. Though Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling has been married for 59 years to Shelly Sterling, he has had a number of close friendships with other women. V. Stiviano, the woman who recorded the racist rant that got Sterling booted from the NBA, was the most recent of these. But before her, there was Alexandra Castro, a woman Sterling lavished with gifts but conditionally: on Tuesday the Los Angeles Times uncovered that Castro was asked to sign an agreement that would protect Sterling from future suits in which she might seek money from him.
The colloquial name for these agreements is “mistress contract,” but that is not, of course, the official term. The paper that Castro signed in 1999 was called a “friendship agreement,” according to court documents. The agreement signified that Sterling is “happily married, has a family and has no intention of engaging in any activity inconsistent with his domestic relationship.” The contract was designed to protect Sterling if Castro decided to seek palimony, the division of assets between a couple that isn’t married.
“It’s like a prenup for a couple that’s carrying on in a relationship but there is no marriage,” says Thomas Sasser, a board of governors member of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers. Some couples who live together but are not married reach such agreements, but they’re rare. And they’re even more rare for couples who do not live together. “You don’t see them very often in that obviously most people don’t have enough money to deal with this kind of complicated contract. Most people aren’t concerned about palimony.” In addition, people can seek palimony in only a handful of states like California so these contracts aren’t all that common.
But for someone like Donald Sterling, it can be well worth it to ask your lawyers to draw up such an agreement. While Sterling and Castro never lived together and Sterling was married to another woman, Castro could theoretically ask Sterling to deliver on any oral agreements he made during their long relationship.
“In the Lee Marvin case in 1976, the California Supreme Court said that people are able to enforce oral agreements, expressed or implied oral agreements,” says Douglas Bagby, who was Castro’s attorney when Sterling sued her for the return of a million-dollar home in Beverly Hills that he had given her after she ended the relationship (in part, she wrote in court filings, because he reneged on an agreement they had had to have a child together). “That can theoretically even apply to a couple that’s not cohabiting,” says Bagby.
Sterling’s lawyer’s prepared the document just in case Sterling ever made monetary promises to Castro he had no intention of fulfilling. “Somebody could sue a very wealthy person and say we had an oral agreement that he was going to give me this or that if I attended games with him and so on, as long as it wasn’t a contract based on sexual services,” says Bagby. “The ‘friendship agreement’ makes it clear that such oral contracts are never binding.” Castro signed five such agreements, court filings show.
“If someone is basically a serial seducer of young women, you carry these things around and have them sign them if you find one with whom you believe you’re going to strike up some kind of intimate relationship,” adds Bagby.
The only reason we know of these agreements signed by Castro is that Donald Sterling’s wife, Shelly Sterling, sued Castro after Castro and Sterling’s relationship ended, demanding assets that Sterling had given as gifts. While many celebrities and billionaires may have these agreements, we typically wouldn’t hear about them.
“They tend to have extremely heavy confidentiality clauses so that if you broke up and you learned something about a celebrity client or a captain of industry, you’re not going to go write a book about them from your time living with them,” says Sasser. “They usually have some kind of clause that say if there are any disputes arising out of the relationship they’re going to be dealt with in arbitration or with a private judge. They’re not going to go to the general courthouse where all the files are public.”
Shelly Sterling has filed a suit against V. Stiviano, accusing her of seducing Sterling into giving her fancy cars and apartments—much like Castro before her. If the suit goes to court, we may see similar “friendship agreements” from the Sterling camp again.