California has a very high divorce rate and Southern California – home to affluent celebrities who hold plenty of assets (and liabilities) – may be the highest in the country. Countless times prominent people have relayed to me horror stories about their divorces after finding out that I am a lawyer. In many instances, they felt wronged by the legal structure in place.
On January 11, Yolanda Foster officially filed for divorce from her estranged husband, composer David Foster. The Public Information Office at the Stanley Mosk Courthouse in Los Angeles confirmed the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills star cited “irreconcilable differences” and is asking for spousal support. Yolanda also requested David pay her attorney’s fees. The musical prodigy and the former model were married for four years prior to their split. Herewith, I present key legal issues that may be part of the superstar couple’s impending divorce:
California law uses the term “spousal support,” also known as alimony, to describe payments that one divorcing spouse is ordered to pay the other to maintain the lesser-earning spouse at the standard of living enjoyed during the marriage. Generally, each spouse is expected to support himself or herself at a point in the future and spousal support is only to tide over the lesser-earning spouse until that point.
To that end, California courts are required by law to consider several factors when awarding spousal support, including the ages, assets, needs, earnings, and employment opportunities of the respective spouses. When a marriage lasts fewer than ten years in California, spousal support generally only lasts as long as one-half the duration of the marriage. For example, in a marriage that lasted four years, two years of spousal support will likely be awarded to the lower income-earning spouse.
Couples have the power to negotiate a spousal support agreement themselves and address the termination of spousal support and whether the court will retain the power to extend or modify spousal support beyond the termination date.
Pursuant to California law, the court is authorized to order the payment of fees and costs as between the parties, based on the spouse’s respective incomes, needs, and abilities to pay in order to ensure a parity of legal representation in the divorce action.
Either party may seek to have the court determine the equitable allocation of attorney’s fees. That the party requesting the award of attorney’s fees (Yolanda) has the resources to pay her own legal fees and costs is not in itself a bar to ordering David to pay part or all of the fees and costs requested.
Now, you may wonder why Yolanda has asked for attorney’s fees when she has an estimated net worth of around $45 million – perhaps accrued through her divorce settlement with Mohamed Hadid whereas David – a 16-time Grammy winner – is presumed to be worth less, around $30 million.
Parties can ask the court to take action but it does not mean it will. Yolanda could have proof that David has more money, thus necessitating an award to her. I implore AATT readers to share their thoughts here concerning why Yolanda requested legal fees.
Medical Care – Lyme Disease
Preserving health insurance coverage is a major concern for many divorcing couples. Yolanda has faced speculation from her cast members, some of which question her Lyme disease diagnosis and condition.
The spouse who provided health coverage for the other spouse during the marriage can be ordered by the court to continue to do so. Reports claim David is paying for Yolanda’s medical care. There may be a time limit on such action and the coverage for a former spouse usually terminates when all issues of the dissolution proceedings conclude in a final divorce judgment.
Since separating, David and Yolanda have made it clear that they will continue to support each other despite no longer being married. Will David continue to foot Yolanda’s medical bills and who will pay for her countless and complex therapeutic treatments to fight Lyme disease? (Yolanda visited Seoul, South Korea where she underwent experimental stem cell therapy.)
Throughout this season of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, Yolanda has been recounting her health journey. She has steadily shared her “not so glamorous” journey in fighting the disease on social media. The mom of Gigi, Bella, and Anwar maintains that she continues to struggle with her health.
Maintaining health insurance coverage is a negotiable part of any divorce settlement. It’s of high enough cost and of significant enough importance to be negotiated vigorously, especially in this instance where one spouse – Yolanda – has a chronic medical condition.
Family courts are perpetually understaffed and packed with litigants, pushing hearings back further down the calendar. Most divorces in California take far more than six months to complete.
California is a community property state, which means that all income earned (and debts accrued) during the marriage are considered property belonging to both spouses. In a community property jurisdiction, premarital property and property gifted to a spouse or inherited will be considered “separate property.”
Property evaluation takes time to assess and assign, especially in a case where the parties have many assets and liabilities. The division of community property in divorce can be a tedious and contentious process. The parties must identify, characterize, and place a value on all assets that may be subject to division. To avoid this task, couples often choose to prepare a prenuptial agreement, a document that spells out exactly how any existing and future assets will be treated should the couple get divorced.
Couples that bring large personal or business assets to the marriage can benefit from a prenup. These contracts list an inventory of premarital assets that in the event of a divorce will remain the property of their original owner. This contract is a blank canvas for the parties to create the architecture for life after marriage, except for designations as to child support and child custody matters.
Prenuptial agreements can modify, clarify, supplement, or reinforce California rules including those that determine how community property is divided; how separate property is protected; and how spouses will support each other after marriage. In short, prenups preserve the expectations of the parties and prevent surprises in a divorce trial.
If Yolanda and David do not have a prenuptial agreement, California law will come into play in the divorce proceedings. Under the law, assets of divorcing spouses are divided equally. Absent a premarital agreement all income earned during marriage as a result of efforts of a spouse and assets acquired other than by gift or inheritance is community property. If the reality TV couple did have a prenuptial agreement, that doesn’t mean this is a cut and dry divorce case.
Prenuptial agreements are supposed to be based on fair and full disclosure of assets. When executing a prenuptial agreement, if one party does not wholly disclose all of his/her assets, properties, and debts, the court may invalidate the agreement. If the agreement has ambiguous wording, it may get successfully challenged in court. Prenuptial agreements can be deemed unenforceable for a variety of reasons, including individual provisions are invalid or the contract was not properly executed.
Grab your gavel, join the conversation, and tell us what you think about these issues in the Yolanda and David Foster divorce case.