East Coast Divorce vs West Coast Divorce: Where do you Get the Biggest Bang for your buck?

Are the Best States for Getting a Divorce Found on the East Coast or West Coast?

Imagine Biggie vs Tupac.

West Coast vs East Coast.

But for divorce.

Who wins?

Where do you get the biggest package for your divorce settlement?

It’s hard to say, actually. It depends on what metrics you use. For example, is it just a function of which coast, in the aggregate, had the biggest divorce settlements? Is it a function of which coast in the aggregate has the most favorable (or unfavourable) alimony rules that have resulted in the most consequential settlements? Is it a function of the amount of child support/custody bias? Is it a function of the price of a divorce in the aggregate, by state? Or is the existence of a prenup or lack thereof controlling no matter what the provenance of your divorce?

On the East Coast, you have jurisdictions like New York, New Jersey and Connecticut as well as Washington D.C. There is also Maine, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, Georgia, Florida and the Carolinas. All of these states follow “equitable distribution” rules which means the judge will decide what is “fair” and that could mean anything depending on your situation. 50/50,  60/40, 70/30, 99/01.

If there is a valid prenup, it doesn’t even matter. As far as child support and custody, that will not add that much extra to your bottom line because in the case of the former, there are usually guidelines and formulas. In the case of custody, it is increasingly “joint.” But the amount to be paid in some East coast states is significantly lower than, say, California, where child support payments can be as much as ten times higher than a state like Georgia according to some estimates. As far as biggest divorces on this coast, you are looking at, for example, the Wildenstein divorce (between art dealer Alec Wildenstein and his plastic surgery loving wife Jocelyn) in which Jocelyn banked in excess of $2.5 billion dollars. If we are talking about aggregates, just with that one divorce alone, the East coast wins.

On the West Coast you have, obviously, California which is the most populous state in the country, as well as one of the most affluent and certainly one of a handful of states in the Union where “community property” rules prevail where you pretty much are entitled to a 50/50 split of community marital property. Washington State is also a community property state on the West Coast, as is Oregon. If you consider Alaska and Hawaii which according to the census are grouped with California, Oregon and Washington as the “Pacific region” then you have a fuller picture of which states are relevant to this question. Cities in these states of interest include Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, Portland, San Jose, San Diego, Spokane, Fresno, Modesto, Anchorage and Honolulu.

As far as big settlements go (banging for the buck) well, there are a lot of celebs out there who had some big time settlements like Scwharzenegger and Gibson to name a couple. By the way, speaking of big settlements, just to digress a little bit, these divorces (not all found in either East or West Coast) were pretty huge:

  • Arnold Schwarzenegger & Maria Shriver ($350 million)
  • Robert & Sheila Johnson ($400 million)
  • Mel Gibson and Robyn Gibson ($425 million)
  • Craig and Wendy McCaw (Seattle) ($460 million)
  • Steve and Elaine Wynn (Vegas) ($700 million)
  • Harold Hamm and Sue Hamm (Oklahoma) ($1 billion)
  • Rupert & Ann Murdoch ($1.7 billion)
  • Alec & Jocelyn Wildenstein (New York) ($2.5 billion)

So based on list, it would seem that it is hard to tell where you will get the biggest bang for your buck. Although, if you said that the scales tip a little bit to the West Coast on average, you could be forgiven. At the same time, there is this myth that the West Coast is all “community property.” Even though California and Washington State are community property states, it should be noted that not all of the West Coast follow community property rules. Indeed, most community property states aren’t even on the West Coast. The community property states in the US comprise Louisiana, Arizona, California, Texas, Washington, Idaho, Nevada, New Mexico, and Wisconsin. Clearly, with the exceptions of Washington and California, most community property states are neither  on the West nor East Coasts. They are more in the Southwest. See the map below for a visual representation of community property states:

None of this answers the question about where, overall, average people who are not gazillionaires will get the biggest bang for the settlement buck. Is it on the West Coast or the East Coast on average? The fact that California is such a huge and affluent state and also a community property scheme, and with so many rich celebrities, would tempt the average person to conclude that the West Coast is the place to get divorced (btw, apparently you don’t typically get alimony in California unless you meet very strict criteria.).

 

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