Salacious media reports about celebrities and their sometimes extravagant lifestyles are common in California, and stories about rich and famous couples who are ending their marriages are a particularly popular form of grist for the tabloid mill. Reporters often seek to flesh out these stories by interviewing the attorneys involved or speculating about the legal strategies that could be adopted, but what appears in print may not always withstand the scrutiny of legal experts.
The community property laws in California can give rise to highly contentious property division negotiations, and this is the area of the law that many media accounts get wrong. While community property rules require divorcing couples in California to divide their property equally, the law only only applies to assets that have been acquired during the marriage. This means that entertainers can keep the residual income they receive for works that predate their marriages.
These articles may also contain mistakes about how property rights are enforced. Reports about the 2013 divorce of reality TV star Bethenny Frankel and businessman Jason Hoppy often mentioned that they were both still living in their Manhattan apartment. The stories indicated that Frankel or Hoppy would lose their property rights if they moved out, but this assertion has no legal foundation. Real estate acquired during a marriage is generally considered marital property regardless of the occupant.
While stories about celebrity divorces in California sometimes contain legal inaccuracies, they can also highlight deficiencies in the state’s community property laws. Experienced family law attorneys may be aware that marriages are often undermined by fear, resentment and mistrust, and they could recommend prenuptial or post-nuptial agreements as way to restore harmony and calm anxious spouses. They may also suggest alternative dispute resolution methods such as mediation or arbitration.