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"Brangelina" split highlights nuances of high-income divorces

When Angelina Jolie filed for divorce from husband Brad Pitt after two years of marriage, shock waves rippled throughout the celebrity and legal universes. At the same time, the rumor mill began turning in earnest. People wondered if one of them had an affair, was abusive to the other (or the couple's six children) or was a substance abuser.

It's fairly easy to understand the speculation and why people are interested in both the reasons behind the divorce and the ultimate outcome. After all, when of the world's most famous (and either most-beloved or most-maligned, depending on the source) couples calls it quits after more than a decade together, there will be a great deal of interest in seeing what becomes of their hundreds of millions of dollars in assets, as well as custody of their biological and adopted children.

Jolie's divorce filing has been released as part of the public record, but many details surrounding their split are still up in the air, as they are with many other high-income divorcing couples. For instance, since a prenuptial agreement is kept a private matter between a couple prior to marriage, one of those could contain terms that govern many of the decisions normally made in the course of a divorce. "Prenups," as they are commonly called, can be used to:

  • Designate certain property as belonging to only one spouse and not to be included in the combined marital estate for asset division purposes
  • Set the terms for an alimony award (including the amount one spouse would be paid in the event of a divorce, and for how long)
  • Bolster existing estate plans that would provide particular assets for children from a previous relationship (common in second, third or subsequent marriages)
  • Provide guidance for property division if the couple should choose to deviate from standard community property guidelines

    Other high-income complications

    If a high-income couple's assets are easily valued and liquidated, the whole process of property division is much simpler. This is certainly not always the case. Assets could be tied up in investments, closely held businesses, artwork collections or real estate. Property could have been purchased or inherited prior to the marriage but commingled to the point that it is nearly impossible to distinguish.

    Alimony payments can also be tricky in high-income cases in Texas. This is because involuntary alimony is limited by statute to the lesser of either 20 percent of the paying spouse's monthly gross income or $5,000. (See Texas Family Code Section 8.055 for more information.) That amount may seem generous, but to someone used to a much more lavish standard of living, it could present some huge problems. These limitations only apply to involuntary alimony, however, so the parties can independently agree upon any amount they wish.

    This post, of course, can't possibly touch on all the issues that could arise in a high-asset or high-income divorce. High-income divorces pose many complications, and they should never be attempted without the advice and guidance of a skilled divorce attorney, even if you and your spouse have come to an agreement on many or all of the major issues beforehand.

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