This post was written by my Sodoma Law colleague, attorney and Board Certified Family Law Specialist Patra A. Sinner.
Sadly, 2016 seems to have been the year of the celebrity split. There were a number of celebrity match-ups that melted down throughout the year, one more shocking than the next. While some of these may have been expected, others left us reeling from the abrupt endings of our beloved A-list pairings. If we are all being honest, these events are like the proverbial train wreck we just cannot avoid reading about if given the opportunity to peek inside what happened. While satisfying our voyeuristic curiosities about all things celebrity, we can also use these events as a reminder to take stock of our own lives looking to the future for better relationship trends in 2017. Taking stock of the biggest 2016 break-ups ....
Amber and Johnny: By all accounts, in many jurisdictions this could have been a simple split. The parties have no children together and they were married a relatively short period of time. This would eliminate any concerns regarding custody and child support. It also should have minimized exposure to spousal support and lessened the probability of accumulation of significant assets or debts during the marital period. However, the allegations of misconduct and spousal abuse turned this seemingly simple case into one of social media fodder. While both camps lodged allegations, the rest of the population picked sides on whether the domestic abuse actually happened or was used as leverage. Unfortunately, as family law matters go, many things that happen behind closed doors boils down to a "he said/she said" version of events, with the Court left deciding who was most credible. Regardless of who is right or wrong, for those on either side of the fence a few pieces of basic advice: (1) make efforts to document events with photographs, audio, maintaining copies of written communications and the like; (2) seek advice of counsel when it is safe to do so; and (3) do not delay seeking intervention from authorities and the Court if you need it.
Mariah and James; Lady Gaga and Taylor; J-Lo and Casper; and Josh and Diane: These folks have something in common - they dated, but did not marry. What could possibly be the problem if they did not actually tie the knot? Some states recognize common law marriage, which means that while you may not have had an actual marriage you may still, in fact, be married. For example, Josh and Diane dated for 10 years before they split. If certain elements are met in States that recognize common-law marriage, parties may be unintentionally considered married, and this may follow you to other States that do not even recognize common law marriage. Common law marriage aside, it's also possible to form financial entanglements with someone with whom you share such history. And following along the financial thread, even for shorter relationships like Mariah and James, it is rumored that Mariah demanded a "$50 million dollar inconvenience fee" over the split (read: what she wants to make up for wasting her time). The fortunate, and unfortunate, reality of the law is that if there is a deep pocket involved someone can probably find a legitimate legal claim to make that forces the parties into some sort of negotiation rather than deal with the risk of a lawsuit. While such issues are hard to plan for or even imagine if you are simply dating, it is would be prudent to get financial and legal advice before approaching major financial and life decisions such as buying a home, creating investments, or planning a future marriage with a dating partner. While it has historically been considered a measure of one's faith in the relationship as to whether or not to approach these discussions, it should be viewed more from the standpoint of planning and preparation. For example, a pre-nuptial agreement may not be right for everyone, but it is at least worth finding out if it could be right for your situation before making a major decision.
Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt: This is perhaps the coup de grace of all 2016 splits. After 10 years of dating and 6 children between them, they got married in 2014, only to end it all in 2016. They seemed to be writing a new chapter in how you can have a completely organic family not bound by tradition or a rulebook. The untangling of these parties will be one for the record books but likely handled off the record despite initial, and very public, allegations of child abuse. Of note, those stories have been all but silenced recently. They are likely being counseled of the benefits of keeping such matters private if at all possible for the sake of the parties, and particularly the children. These parties will be dealing with what the majority of couple's facing divorce deal with - support, property distribution, and custody of their children. The amount of money and property, and the family dynamics that blossomed in this blended family, will complicate this situation without question. However, the thing to understand is that it is "do-able" and it is "do-able" in every situation. Divorce is often the most emotional and devastating event in someone's life and it is important to get the right counsel on all fronts from your attorney to your financial planner and therapist to help guide the process, and provide a voice of reason when emotions run high. While everyone may not have the financial means of these two, there are options for every budget and a good professional can help you figure out the best way to use your resources. There is a way to approach this process to lessen the blow and it requires planning.
While just the mere reference to "conscious uncoupling" may give your stomach a turn, it was certainly better than the unreasonable demands and allegations of misconduct that plagued these celebrities in 2016. Here's to hoping there's a more balanced approach for anyone facing a separation in 2017