The latest celebrity divorce to find its way into the headlines involves Bobby Flay, the highly successful celebrity chef and restaurant owner, and Stephanie March, an actress known for her role on Law & Order: SVU.
The couple has been married for ten years and they have no children. Hence, all of the fighting has to do with property and spousal support. We thought we would take a look at some of the key accusations and whether they would have legal merit in Missouri (though the divorce likely will play out in California).
First, the parties signed a prenuptial agreement. Flay had been married twice before and obviously wanted to protect his significant wealth. The prenuptial agreement limited March to receiving $1 million in property and maintenance of $5,000 per month. Given that Flay has a reported net worth of $20 million, March would seem to be upset she would not get a greater share of that wealth if she cannot “break” the prenuptial agreement. But in order to invalidate the prenuptial agreement, March would have to show she did not enter it voluntarily and knowingly and freely of her own will, with full disclosure of Flay’s assets, and with access to counsel. This seems a high bar for March to meet – it seems certain that she had an attorney at the time of the prenuptial agreement, and proving coercion or fraudulent hiding of assets usually is very difficult and rather rare. But the prenuptial agreement could still be set aside if the court finds it terms unconscionable. It would seem that March feels the unconscionability is in the small percentage of Flay’s wealth she would receive – and she does have a point in that the $20 million net worth today contains far more than $1 million of marital property. But whether a court would find the terms so shocking and unfair remains an open question with March facing an uphill battle.
Second, and not surprisingly, March alleges that Flay had various affairs during the marriage. Marital misconduct could impact both the division of property and perhaps the spousal support, depending on the extent of the affairs, whether they involved some expending of marital property on the paramours, and whether March suffered from these affairs in some tangible way.
Third, March claims that she helped Flay build his restaurant empire, and that he did not even know what tapas were until she introduced him to the Spanish concept. While these claims seem farfetched, if March can show that she did contribute to the building of the brand and the vast company holdings, she could expand the extent of the marital estate and her contribution to it, which might help set aside the prenuptial agreement.
Fourth, March claims that Flay gifted her a horse for their fourth anniversary, and the horse ended up winning $130,000 in races and has a value of $90,000. Apparently, she alleges, Flay spent all the winnings. If the horse was indeed a gift, it would qualify as her sole property, and if they had an understanding that the maintenance of the horse and its racing was also a gift she could claim all of the earnings. However, if the horse was a joint marital venture, she would only have a marital claim to the earnings (if the prenuptial agreement is invalid).
Of course the divorce has many salacious details and Hollywood ladies and intrigue, but we only cover the legally relevant ones here.
While this is a celebrity divorce and gets a great deal of publicity, the issues at play are not uncommon – marital gifts, prenuptial agreements, contributions to a spouse’s earnings – and it helps to see how the law impacts the famous and not so famous in the (relatively) same way.
If you have questions about divorce and prenuptial agreements, contact us – we can help.