Does legal separation affect property division in divorce?

The workplace demographic in America has changed dramatically in the past decade, with many dual-income households becoming the norm. From a family law perspective, that change has the potential to impact various considerations in divorce negotiations. Specifically, does greater financial equality translate into smoother property divisions in divorce?

A recent celebrity divorce example suggests that answer might be no. Although both spouses may have sources of financial income, a disparity in income might still be a recipe for trouble. That seems to be the case in the recent divorce involving American Idol finalist Katharine McPhee.

According to the divorce papers, the couple married in 2008 and separated in 2014. However, Katherine had claimed the separation happened over a year earlier, in March 2013. Under applicable state law, living separately with the intent to divorce can affect how a court defines the assets and debts of the marital estate. Property and debt acquired after a spouse moved out might be excluded from any property division or debt allocation rulings. In this case, one media source claims that the later 2014 date allowed Katherine’s husband to claim a share of her income from the cancelled show, "Smash."

Some of the property division arrangements are even prospective in focus. Specifically, Katherine’s husband won an equal 50-50 split of her music rights, at least on songs made while they were married. That seems to implicate a future income stream from royalties. Similarly, Katherine’s husband is also getting an equal share of her $700,000 contract with Columbia/Epic Records, even though some songs have not yet been released. As this example illustrates, property division arrangements can be complicated. An attorney can help a divorcing spouse protect his or her interests.

Source: TMZ, "Katherine McPhee Divorce Finalized … ‘Smash’ing Victory for Nick," Feb. 10, 2016