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We Don't Need No Stinkin' Prenup: Lessons for Johnny Depp

by Chandra Moss

As most persons have “heard” by now (pun intended), actors Johnny Depp and Amber Heard went through a heavy divorce battle. Unfortunately for Mr. Depp, per media reports, the parties did not sign a prenuptial agreement. Why unfortunate? Because under California’s community property laws, Ms. Heard may be entitled to one-half of all property and income accrued during the short fifteen month marriage.

What is a prenuptial agreement? Under California law, prior to marriage, parties may agree to limit the effects of the state’s community property rules. For example, they can decide what current and future property remains the separate property of a party, waive apportionment of increases in value of businesses during marriage and determine whether future wages and salaries are a party’s separate property and not amenable to division.

Parties to a prenuptial agreement may provide for a method by which community property is obtained, how community expenses are to be paid and whether or not there is a “minimum” community property estate – in other words, a minimum amount of a person’s separate property which would be community upon divorce. Parties may even negotiate, limit or waive spousal support, or alimony as it is often called. These limits might include the maximum amount of total spousal support payable or the term for payment of spousal support.

In Mr. Depp’s case, he may well rue the lack of a prenuptial agreement protecting his estate. Consider this:

  • During his short term marriage to Ms. Heard, Mr. Depp worked on two notable major productions – “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales” and “Alice Through the Looking Glass”. Not only might he be on the hook for giving Ms. Heard 50% of his wages, he may also be paying her 50% of the residuals. Residuals are like a royalty paid to a performer for repeat of the production.
  • Mr. Depp is no doubt the high wage earner of the duo. While this marriage is considered short term by the Court (and therefore spousal support is generally paid for half the length of the marriage), he could be paying out big time to Ms. Heard. The Court might not have issued a spousal support order on an emergency basis, but you can be sure the issue will be “heard” at some date in the near future.

This by no means is a full recitation of what Mr. Depp stood to lose for his failure to plan. While most of us don’t have quite so much to lose, considering a prenuptial agreement to protect separate assets, limit alimony liability and to reduce future litigation can save headaches and costs in the event of a dissolution. If you have any questions about the advantages preparing a prenuptial agreement, please give us a call.

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