As many who read the celebrity magazines know, Chris Rock and his wife, Malaak, are in the process of getting a divorce, with rumors that Chris has already begun dating actress Rosario Dawson. With net worth in excess of $70 million, Chris has much to lose, and apparently, according to recent news reports, Malaak intends to seek as much as the law will allow.
Chris and Malaak have been married for 19 years and have two children, ages 13 and 11. The two worked out all custody arrangements, leaving only property and support issues.
Not surprisingly, Chris insisted on a prenuptial agreement. Somewhat surprisingly, the prenuptial agreement contained a “sunset clause,” which means that after a certain number of years of marriage, the parties agree that the prenuptial agreement will no longer be enforced. The marriage lasted long enough to trigger the “sunset clause,” so Malaak has no limits other than New York law in pursuit of maintenance and her share of marital property.
Malaak claims she should be entitled to maintain the same standard of living she presently enjoys, which would fall under the category of extravagant – a large principal residence, vacation homes, country clubs, vacations, spas, luxury cars, clothes and jewelry. Additionally, Malaak claims she helped Chris become the star he is today.
To divide marital property, the court must first determine what qualifies as marital property, i.e. property acquired by the parties after marriage. Given the length of the marriage, one could safely assume that the vast majority of their collective holdings have been acquired after the marriage. While Chris had wealth coming into the marriage he safeguarded through the prenuptial agreement, that agreement will not apply, so any of those funds he did not keep separate in his name but converted to marital property through purchase of new assets become part of the marital estate. Also, any increase in these once separate properties would be considered marital property because they are no longer protected by the prenuptial agreement, so all investments, pensions and retirement accounts that have accrued higher values qualify as marital property.
In one of his classic comedy routines before marriage, Chris talked about the difference between “rich” and “wealthy” – and without recounting the very funny bit, Chris definitely falls into the wealthy category today. Most of his movies and other business ventures took place during the marriage, so Malaak stands on solid ground in claiming these income streams as marital assets.
Malaak has her biggest challenge in defining her standard of living, establishing what baseline expectations a court could count in her reasonable expenses and dividing property. It seems fair to assume that the marital residence or its equivalent would be awarded to Malaak, all gifts she received from Chris during the marriage, and at least half of the marital estate. Many might think that sum would be more than sufficient — $35 million roughly – but the law does allow for something more in maintenance so that Malaak does not have to drain her assets over time to keep her standard of living. So, it seems Chris will have to pay a hefty sum in monthly maintenance, particularly since Malaak gave up her professional career to raise their children and engage in a variety of charitable work.
For those who think Chris might be getting hit too hard, two cautionary points. First, Chris agreed to the “sunset clause” in the prenuptial agreement, taking away his ability to limit how much Malaak could claim in the event of a divorce after a long marriage. Second, Chris chose to establish a standard of living only a very few of us ever experience and, particularly in such an enduring marriage, courts will order wealthy earners to keep their former spouses in that standard of living. Many of us have trouble appreciating the standard of living argument in divorce, but if you enter a marriage and share in a partnership for a long time, you imagine that partnership will continue. The investment in that partnership becomes an expectation and eventually a legal claim. And spouses in a long and successful relationship do contribute to the financial worth of the marital estate even without actual employment, as running the home front and raising children are not only considered of great intrinsic value to the earning spouse but also allow that earning spouse the ability to generate that wealth.
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