Divorce of Athletes in California

Recently, the wife of one of the greatest basketball players of our time, Kobe Bryant, announced that she is filing for divorce from the Los Angeles Lakers player.  Although reports indicate that the couple has already reached a financial agreement in their split, many wonder how California’s laws may have affected the division of their property.

California is a community property state.  This is as opposed to those states which are separate property states.

In community property states like California, absent an agreement or legal presumption to the contrary, property acquired during the marriage will be split between the parties 50-50 upon divorce.  However, property acquired before the marriage or after the permanent separation is considered each party’s separate property and will not be divided upon divorce.  Additionally, property acquired by gift or inheretance is considered the individual’s separate property.  At the most basic level, separate property is not divided upon divorce.

The following are examples of what would be considered community property in California, and thus, would be divided 50-50 upon divorce:  Salaries earned during the marriage, real property acquired during the marriage and retirement pensions earned during the marriage.

What about things like rings presented to players for championships?  Could the other spouse argue that such a ring is community property, and as such, must be sold and the profits received divided amongst the couple to finalize the divorce proceedings?  The player who won the ring would likely argue that the ring was a gift and not a part of his ordinary compensation.  As such, he would claim because it was given to him as a gift, it is his separate property and he maintains entire control of it.  However, because rings are frequently given when teams when championships, the spouse may have an argument that they are a form of compensation, and that as such, the ring is community property, to which she is entitled to 50 percent.

One way in which the presumption that property acquired during a marriage is community property can be overcome, is by adopting a premarital agreement.  Such a premarital agreement would stipulate how the couple’s property would be divided upon divorce and hence, the statutory community property laws would not apply, unless specified to apply by the premarital agreement.  Thus, especially in community property states like California, it is highly advisible for high net worth individuals to enter into a premarital agreement prior to getting married so that the other spouse cannot access at least 50 percent of the salary they earned during the marriage.

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