We all know about the political civil war which has been taking place in Washington D.C. However, that is a mere skirmish when considering the thermonuclear battle which is about to engulf the Earth – the impending divorce between Kanye West and Kim Kardashian! There is nothing better than a good old fashioned celebrity divorce to take people’s minds off of their mundane troubles of the day. We can see it now. Banners blasting across the internet. Headlines across the covers of People Magazine or the National Enquirer (does it still exist?) Page Six in the New York Post. Whole episodes of TMZ or Access Hollywood. Who should get custody of the children? Is Kim unfit? Is Kanye crackers? Was there a prenup, and if not, how will they divide the millions each are worth? However, there was one recent story about this once loving couple posted on the internet which actually piqued my interest. Apparently, Kim and Kanye live in a mega-mansion located in Calabasas, California. While many divorcing couples share a home which may need to be disposed of in some fashion during the divorce, it was the headline of this article that I found most fascinating – “Kim owns the land and Kanye owns the house?”.
The discussion that followed focused on how this could be, and what the impact may be in the disposition of this property upon their divorce. Assuming this is true, how might this be possible? Could it be a land lease situation – think a trailer park on steroids – where someone owns the physical residence structure who then pays rent or dues to the owner of the land itself for the privilege of placing your residence on it? Does Kanye own the track of land upon which the residence is situated but Kim owns all of the adjoining properties? Did Kim pay for the land and Kanye pay for the construction of the house itself? Perhaps as is common in most celebrity situations, some type of trusts were created to hold certain property or assets, and which afford different rights or entitlements to the holders or beneficiaries thereof. Regardless of how Kim and Kanye’s Calabasas home is held, the real question is whether it truly makes a difference when it comes to the disposition of the property in a divorce.
When it comes to California, anything is possible. California is what is known as a “community property” state. As such, it has its own set of standards as to what would constitute property divisible upon divorce, and who would be entitled to what. Who may “own” or have title to a given property, or to the form in which it may be held, might make a difference in how that property is disposed of in the event of divorce under California law. However, things may be considerably different if Kim and Kanye were getting a divorce in New Jersey. When it comes to the division of assets in a divorce, New Jersey operates by what is referred to as “equitable distribution”. If an asset or property is acquired during the course of a marriage, usually defined as being between the date of marriage and the date a complaint for divorce is filed, that property is generally considered to be a marital asset and thereby subject to equitable distribution in the event of divorce. Exceptions would include gifts or inheritances a party may receive from a third party, or assets acquired in the name of one party using “premarital” funds of that party. Assuming these exceptions don’t apply, the name under which the property is held, nor in what form, generally does not matter. Nor does it matter who paid for it. The inquiry is rather simple. Was it acquired during the marriage? Were marital assets or funds used to acquire it? If in Kim and Kanye’s case, the answer was yes, then under New Jersey law their Calabasas mega-mansion would be deemed a marital asset. It would be subject to equitable distribution. Please note that I use the term “equitable”, and not “equal”. This is not mere semantics. Once it has been established what property and assets constitute the marital estate, there are a myriad of factors under NJSA 2A:34-23.1 which a court must consider in order to effectuate “equitable” distribution of marital property. Who paid for what. Custodial obligations. Relative contributions. Prior agreements. These and many other factors may impact what distribution of marital assets would be “equitable”.