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NASCAR divorce case gets messier

Brian France claims his ex breached agreement and he wants to scrap payments. Her lawyers beg to differ.

- gwright@charlotteobserver.com
Friday, Jun. 10, 2011

NASCAR Chairman Brian France wants to scrap an agreement with his ex-wife that calls for him to pay the mother of his two children millions of dollars, as well as more than $40,000 a month in alimony and child support.

France claims his former wife, Megan France, has breached their separation agreement, and he’s fighting in court to get the deal rescinded.

“She got a boatload of money,” Brian France’s attorney, Johnny Stephenson, told a Mecklenburg judge in a hearing that began last week and resumed on Friday.

“He got confidentiality, joint decision-making with his children, liberal visitation…The evidence will demonstrate that those provisions were material to him. And she’s breached every one of them. Every one of them.”

Megan France’s attorneys told the judge their client had not broken the separation agreement, and they accused Brian France of refusing to pay her the millions he’d promised in the agreement.

The Frances’ legal wranglings have been unusual from the start.

Brian France’s attorneys have sought to keep the court proceedings secret, and managed in 2008 to persuade a judge to seal documents filed in the case – material that is almost always open to the public.

But in February, the N.C. Court of Appeals ordered that the Frances’ litigation be held in open court, after the Observer, WCNC-TV and other media went to court asking that the case be treated like other divorce cases with hearings and documents open to the public. The appeals court allowed the documents to remain sealed, unless the Charlotte judge handling the Frances case rules otherwise.

Mecklenburg District Judge Jena Culler heard arguments last week about allegations of Megan France’s breaches and Brian France’s refusal to pay alimony.

On Friday, Culler ordered Brian France to pay his ex-wife alimony and child support in full and on time.

“Megan France is suffering irreparable harm each day the support is not paid to her…,” her attorney, Joslin Davis, told the judge during last week’s hearing. “Brian France has selectively chosen the provisions of the separation agreement that he wants to enforce…Yet at the same time, he’s repudiated his obligations under that contract.”

But Brian France’s attorney argued that Megan France is not in financial distress.

“You know how much cash she got. You know how much real estate she got,” Stephenson told the judge. “You know that it is an enormous sum of money. Even among rich folks, it’s an enormous sum of money.”

Stephenson said Megan France is either “flush” with money or has “squandered millions and millions and millions.”

But Culler sided with Megan France. The judge said the harm to her was irreparable.

Brian and Megan France have married and divorced one another twice. Their second divorce was finalized in April 2008.

Brian France had agreed to pay Megan France a total of $9 million as well as $32,000 a month in alimony for 10 years and $10,000 a month in child support, according to court documents. Their separation agreement also spells out the custody terms for their young twins and provisions about their upbringing.

Brian France is the prominent head of a sprawling motorsports enterprise that has a cluster of motorsports teams based in the Charlotte region and the NASCAR Hall of Fame uptown. He took over the NASCAR chairman role from his father, Bill France Jr., in 2003.

In last week’s hearing, Megan France’s attorneys sought to prevent Brian France from continuing his attempt to rescind the separation agreement. Culler denied the motion, allowing his quest to continue.

Megan France’s attorneys argued their client had not breached the agreement.

Details about her alleged breaches are unclear because the court documents are sealed, and the lawyers spoke generally last week’s open court hearing – often referring to pages and paragraph in the secret documents.

The alleged breaches by Megan France involve parenting, the confidentiality of the separation agreement and the firing of the children’s governess, according to a general description offered by one of her attorneys during the hearing.

Brian France’s attorney Stephenson told the Observer Friday that his client has and will continue to pay support for his children.

Last week, Stephenson disclosed during the hearing that Brian France believes his ex-wife showed their separation agreement to a man with whom she has been romantically involved.

“The cumulative effect of all of her breaches.” Stephenson said, “were to deprive him of the benefit of his bargain: I will give you a bunch of money that I don’t have to give you, if you do these few things.

“She’s done none of them.”

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