Unlike the movies, life does not always have a fairy-tale ending. Divorces involving members of the entertainment community can be highly publicized affairs. With the rising number of divorces involving members of the Hollywood community, having a reliable family law attorney who is well-versed in the ways of “the biz” is a necessary tool to protect your interests.
One important consideration in divorces involving members of the entertainment community is the tracing of community and separate property. California, as a community property state, affords different treatment to property acquired during marriage than property acquired before marriage or through various means such as gifts or inheritances. Property popular among members of the entertainment community may include pensions from the various entertainment guilds, corporate ownership, intellectual property (copyrights, trademarks, etc.), and other property interests.
The valuation of entertainment industry assets can be an important process. These assets are heavily influenced by a constantly evolving market as well as accounting practices that are always at issue. An option for the right to turn a screenplay into a motion picture will not be worth the same as absolute ownership of those rights. Furthermore, such assets are usually impacted by third parties who have a stake in the assets themselves. For example, a creditor may hold a security interest in a motion picture’s underlying copyright for having helped finance the production of the work. Valuing the worth of the property at issue as well as determining any competing ownership is highly integral to the “tracing” process of the community.
A growing concern in the entertainment industry is the concept of “celebrity goodwill.” When one’s worth is impacted by their public image, courts and scholars are forced to ask whether this is an intangible asset or just a mere factor in the valuation process. California has yet to follow in the footsteps of New Jersey and New York to make celebrity goodwill a divisible asset. Whether it is Tiger Woods, Mel Gibson, or Arnold Schwarzenegger, it is evident that a celebrity’s public persona impacts their ability to earn. Given that celebrity divorces are likely to be resolved via settlement, it is unlikely celebrity goodwill will receive a large amount of attention by California courts. However, at the negotiating table, it offers the family law attorney another bargaining chip in negotiating a settlement.
Tracing community and separate property is only one part of the process. Depending on the popularity of the parties in the proceedings, handling publicity during the proceedings is also a concern. In addition, the normal issues that one may encounter during a divorce are also likely to come up. These include spousal and child support, custody arrangements, and confidentiality agreements. The family law attorney must seek to protect the interests of his or her clients while at the same time ensuring their privacy during this difficult time.
Laurence J. Cutler & Robin C. Bogan, “Celebrity Goodwill – The Nature of the Beast: From Horses to Hedge Funds, Tips on Valuing Businesses.” GP Solo – Law Trends & News, Vol 1, No. 2. (February 2005) available at: http://www.americanbar.org/newsletter/publications/law_trends_news_practice_area_e_newsletter_home/celebritygoodwill.html