Katy Perry’s divorce from Russell Brand raises important questions about what “community property” means

I confess that I don’t really know anything about Katy Perry. I’ve heard her name and I know she sings but beyond that, nada. Don’t follow the girl, couldn’t identify a song as being hers, and probably never will. But I know she’s huge and I see her in the gossip magazines and I know she married this guy named Russell Simmons. Brand and I heard they were getting divorced but I wasn’t even going to blog about it. Till I read this morning on Yahoo that Russell may get upwards of $20 million divorce settlement since Katy is worth about $44 million and since they have been married since 2010. You can read the story here.

That kinda struck me as factually incorrect. The short duration of that marriage would suggest to me that Katy Perry has been stockpiling cash long before 2010 when she married her husband Russell (who, according to the article is worth $15 million and who did not sign a prenup when he married Katy a couple of years ago.) Notwithstanding Katy’s stupidity in not insisting on a prenuputial agreement, assuming the Yahoo folks have their facts correct, I still disagree that she will have to pay Russell half her networth just because they married without a prenup.

I stand to be corrected but this is not my understanding of how the community property scheme works. Yes, I mean, typically, you make out like a bigger bandit than in the equitable distribution scheme. But I think even in the community property scheme, the courts will factor the length of the marriage into the calculus of how much the moneyed spouse has to pay the non-moneyed spouse. You don’t just automatically get half someone’s life work.  If that were the case, then every gold-digger that side of the Mason Dixon line would hook up with rich celebs,  file for divorce in under 2 years, and walk away with enough money to build their own transcontinental railroad. Even in the community property scheme, there is something called equity. It would be inequitable for Russell that get half of Katy’s money after less than two years of marriage just because there was no prenup.

A more correct analysis would say he gets half of what she earned during the duration of that marriage. So whatever she earned in the year and a half of their union, that is the number they use to get his half. And by the way, since he made $15 million, that is going into the pot. And she very well could have earned less than $15 million in the last two years (again, I don’t know what she actually does so I have no idea of even a ballpark of what she may have earned). But if she likewise netted about $15 million in the last year and a half, guess what? Russell doesnt’ get a dime from the pop princess.

That’s my understanding of the community property laws. But if you are a lawyer in California, or a state that is a community property state, I would love to hear from you. How does this law actually work? Is it half no matter what? Or half of what was earned during the marriage?

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