What We Can Learn from the Kim Kardashian and Kanye West Divorce
Kim Kardashian West filed for divorce from Kanye West in the Los Angeles Superior Court. This high-profile case opens the conversation about marriage and divorce in California.
Very few couples will have the press coverage or assets that the Kardashian-West divorce will involve. But many couples will deal with the same legal issues.
Here are some of the lessons that divorcing couples can take away from the Kardashian-West case.
What California Prenuptial Agreements Do
Kardashian and West married in 2014. According to an analysis at the time, Kardashian was worth about $45 million, and West was worth about $110 million.
Both parties employed armies of lawyers and accountants for their businesses before they married. Odds are that every one of those advisors encouraged Kardashian and West to enter into a prenuptial agreement.
A couple can choose to enter into a prenuptial agreement before marriage. It governs the relationship of the couple during and after the marriage.
Some of the issues that a premarital agreement can address include:
- Ownership of property acquired during the marriage
- Disposition of property upon separation or divorce
- Spousal support after divorce
In the case of Kardashian and West, the prenuptial agreement probably divides the couple’s property. This would mean that West would keep his businesses at their appreciated values. Kardashian would keep her businesses at their appreciated values. They would then divide any personal property acquired during the marriage based on who bought the property.
The main issues that are not addressed in a prenuptial agreement are child custody and child support. A judge will resolve those issues based on the children’s best interests at the time of the divorce.
Judges must make detailed factual findings for child custody and child support. As a result, a judge will always take in evidence on issues that surround child custody. The judge will then render a decision about custody of the children, even if the couple has a prenuptial agreement in place.
How California’s Community Property Laws Work
The Kardashian-West case provides a path to understand the way that community property works. Pretend that Kardashian and West did not have a prenuptial agreement in place. In this case, the court would divide the property according to California’s community property laws.
According to Forbes magazine, the couple is worth $2.1 billion as of 2021. Of this, West’s businesses are worth about $1.3 billion, and Kardashian’s businesses are worth about $780 million. This leaves about $70 million in personal property, including houses, art, jewelry, clothing, and automobiles.
If California’s community property laws were applied, West would keep the $110 million he brought to the marriage as his separate property. Kardashian would keep the $45 million she brought to the marriage as her separate property. Next, the personal property the couple acquired during marriage would be divided equally between them, so each would receive $35 million in personal property.
This leaves the appreciation of their businesses as the primary unresolved issue. Generally, appreciation of separate property remains separate property. Thus, under the general rule, West would keep his business’s growth from $110 million to $1.3 billion, and Kardashian would keep the growth in her business from $45 million to $780 million.
But the general rule has an exception. Appreciation of separate property becomes community property if the couple took active steps, such as effort or investment, to grow the property during the marriage. West and Kardashian promoted each other’s businesses. They probably used marital assets to invest in their businesses. These active steps can convert separate property into community property.
Thus, under California’s community property laws, the $1.19 billion appreciation of West’s business would be split evenly between the couple. Each would receive a $595 million share of the growth in West’s businesses. This would leave West with ownership of $705 million worth of his businesses and Kardashian with ownership of $595 million worth of his businesses.
Similarly, under California’s community property laws, the $735 million appreciation of Kardashian’s businesses would be split evenly between the couple. Each would receive a $367.5 million share of the growth in Kardashian’s businesses. This would leave Kardashian with ownership of $412.5 million worth of her businesses and West with ownership of $367.5 million worth of her businesses.
This outcome varies from the presumed outcome under a prenuptial agreement in which West would keep full ownership of his businesses and Kardashian would keep full ownership of her businesses. It also explains why most high-net-worth divorces involve a prenuptial agreement.
How California’s Child Custody Process Works
Judges make child custody decisions using the “best interests of the child” test. Most judges presume that maintaining a relationship with both parents on a roughly equal basis will serve the child’s best interests. As a result, most judges order a custody and visitation scheme that gives the children equal time with each parent.
But judges must consider the children’s health, safety, and welfare when they order custody and visitation. If a parent has a mental illness that adversely affects the children, a court can adjust custody and visitation to protect the children.
Kardashian and West have openly discussed West’s diagnosis of bipolar disorder. The press has widely documented West’s erratic public behavior. A judge will consider West’s mental state in deciding custody and visitation.
After considering his mental state, a judge may determine that it is not relevant and award roughly equal custody. But a judge could also determine that his mental state affects the children and could take steps to craft a custody and visitation scheme to safeguard the children.
The Value of Good California Divorce Lawyers
The final lesson that you might see in the Kardashian-West divorce is the value of a good California divorce lawyer. Since the prenuptial agreement will resolve most property issues, the divorce lawyers will probably focus on child custody, visitation, and child support.
Lawyers often settle these issues with little involvement from the court. Where both parents have a job and a safe, healthy relationship with the children, the parents can usually agree on equal parenting time.
But this case might raise complex issues around mental health. When a divorce involves complex issues, an experienced and knowledgeable lawyer can provide invaluable advice and representation.