High asset divorce can be affected by prenuptial agreement

California is often host to high profile celebrity divorces. One such case that recently settled in another state illustrates some of the principles that are common to high asset divorce cases. The matter involved the divorce of Richard Stephenson, the founder of Cancer Treatment Centers of America, and his spouse of many years, Alicia Stephenson.

One of the interesting twists of the case was that the couple led a lavish lifestyle during the marriage and Alicia was used to having access to luxuries of every kind. Richard did not deprive her of anything during their marriage. She also assisted him to some extent in building up the business. Essentially, however, she did not develop an independent career and had been dependent on Richard's income for her ability to live in a manner of the "rich and famous."

Patricia had asked for about $400,000 in monthly spousal support, i.e., alimony payments, as compared to the $9,000 that Richard offered. After hearings, the family law judge issued a decision awarding her $50,000 per month, which came to $27,500 after taxes. The court also awarded her a lump sum of $6.5 million, which was based on properties proved to be jointly owned by the couple.

In California, property acquired during the marriage by either party during the marriage is usually considered to be community property, owned equally on a 50-50 basis by the husband and wife. The court also awarded her a Porsche, jewelry, two motorcycles and a 401(k) fund. She also received a $450,000 payment toward initial housing costs.

In some respects, the decision of the court may seem stingy to the wife. The judge, however, expressed dismay that Patricia did not take advantage of opportunities to get an education and build up her own career during the eight years of court battles consumed by the divorce proceedings. A major impediment to her recovery was also the fact that she had signed a prenuptial agreement limiting her property rights upon divorce. In California and elsewhere, a high asset divorce will involve similar issues as confronted in the Stephenson matter.

Source: Chicago Tribune, "His acrimonious divorce finally over, Richard Stephenson donates $5 million to hurricane relief", Kim Janssen, Oct. 11, 2017

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