Kaley Cuoco’s Divorce & Prenuptial Agreements

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On the surface, prenuptial agreements are fairly straightforward. You and your future spouse figure out who gets what in the case of divorce. Done. Kaley Cuoco, star of the popular CBS sitcom, The Big Bang Theory, recently finalized her split from husband Ryan Sweeting, a former professional tennis player, and their prenuptial agreement played a huge part in the settlement.

Shortly after the two married in 2013, the actress signed a deal reportedly worth $72 million for her role in the long-running comedy. California, like Washington, is a community property state, where assets acquired during a marriage are viewed as belonging equally to both parties and can be divided in the divorce.

As a result of their prenuptial agreement, however, Cuoco kept everything, including her money, a Los Angeles home, and a beach house in the Santa Barbara area.

Out of all of the shared assets, Sweeting gets $165,000, whatever cash and gift certificates he has, and his ex will cover the cost of two personal trainers and his legal fees.

Granted, most of us aren’t actors, professional athletes, or millionaires, but this is an illustration of how prenuptial agreements can be an important way to protect yourself and your assets.

What Is A Prenuptial Agreement?

On a basic level, prenuptial agreements are contracts two people enter into prior to marriage. They decide, ahead of time, how their property will be divided in the case of divorce, legal separation, or annulment. Many couples use a “what’s mine stays mine,” what’s yours stays yours” approach, ensuring they maintain their assets should the union fail. In short, it’s a way to safeguard your belongings and resources when you marry.

While the concept is relatively simple, it often gets much, much more complicated in practice. The content of prenuptial agreements can vary wildly. In addition to the division of property, some people may even attempt to include provisions for spousal support, custody of minor children, or stipulations regarding things like infidelity. Most of these, however, are not enforceable and will likely be thrown out by the court.

Though this type of contract can be simple, they also differ a great deal and may be tailored to fit your specific needs and requirements.

How Are Prenuptial Agreements Enforced?

As the two parties may enter into the arrangement with different levels of bargaining power, the court may decide whether or not it is valid and enforceable. In these cases, the burden of proof falls upon the spouse seeking to apply the terms.

First, the court may look at the document to determine if it is substantively fair, and ensure it makes reasonable provisions for the party not trying to impose the agreement. So long as it is not wholly lopsided and skewed to benefit the wealthier individual, it may very well hold up under scrutiny.

Even if it isn’t substantively fair, prenuptial agreements may be upheld as procedurally fair. In these situations, the court may examine the terms, consider the value of each party’s property, and determine whether both of you entered into the arrangement on even footing and with full knowledge. A judge may look to see whether or not the spouse at the disadvantage had enough time to thoroughly contemplate the conditions, negotiate stipulations, or seek legal advice if necessary.

Provisions for spousal support in prenuptial agreements can be enforced. Though if the document isn’t drafted properly, or the terms are dramatically biased, a judge does have the ability to throw them out.

On the other hand, child support and custody terms are not enforceable in Washington. Couples may seek to head off potential guardianship disputes ahead of time, but ultimately the court is the final authority in these matters and will act in the best interest of the child. If a prenuptial agreement is reasonable, it’s possible that the final judgment may resemble what was laid down, but that is up to the court.

Is An Attorney Necessary For Prenuptial Agreements?

As in most legal matters, if you want to draft a prenuptial agreement, you may be best served by hiring an attorney well-versed in this area. These can be detailed, complicated documents that are difficult to formulate and format. No two will be alike.

That said, there are a variety of online forms, templates, and do-it-yourself resources available. These documents must address a number of areas of both marriage and divorce, and though you may think you’re saving a few dollars by handling the matter yourself, it can hurt you in the long run.

Given the intricacies involved, unless a prenuptial agreement is carefully and painstakingly crafted, it may not be enforced by the court. And if not, you may waste a great deal of time and fail to protect your assets after all.

A skilled attorney can help you create an arrangement that is more likely to stand up in front of a judge. Both parties may want to retain legal services to make sure that their well-being is equally addressed, that neither is at a disadvantage, and that there is actual legal weight to this agreement.

Do You Need A Prenuptial Agreement?

Perhaps the biggest question in play is whether or not you need a prenuptial agreement in the first place?

Still, even faced with overwhelming statistics, a startlingly small number of couples opt for this type of contract. Some think this is a pessimistic approach, it amounts to betting against your marriage, and it may become a self-fulfilling prophecy. But depending on your circumstances, it might be something to look into. It can provide a bit of extra security you hope you’ll never need, but that you’ll likely be glad to have if you do.

There are a number of reasons you may want to consider a prenuptial agreement. A short list:

  • If one party is much wealthier than the other, it can protect preexisting assets.
  • If one spouse earns substantially more, this can limit future support payments.
  • Does one of you have a significant amount of debt? This can protect you from having to cover your ex’s liability.
  • Do you own a business and want to make sure it remains yours? You probably don’t want your former spouse as an unexpected partner.

In addition to safeguarding and separating individual property, prenuptial agreements can be used in a preemptive fashion. They can protect you if you stand to receive an inheritance, or shield a family estate coming your way. Should one of you quit your job in order to care for your children, such a contract can provide a safeguard and guarantee that the financial responsibility does not fall entirely on the non-working spouse after divorce.

Prenuptial agreements can be dense, complex documents, especially if you want them to actually hold up and be enforced during your divorce. With that as the goal, if you want to protect yourself, your assets, and your interests in an upcoming marriage, you may want to enlist the expertise of an experienced attorney.

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