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What You Need to Know About Avoiding a Messy Divorce

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Seal And Heidi Split
Experts call this time of year “divorce season” for good reason. The proof is everywhere. This recent holiday season alone, we heard about more celebrity divorces than engagements in Hollywood. First, Vanessa Bryant divorced Kobe Bryant the same weekend Deion Sanders announced he was ending his marriage to wife Pilar. A few weeks later, news broke that model Heidi Klum and singer Seal were also calling it quits on their 7-year marriage.

Is there something in the air? To get the dirt on the truth behind messy divorces, and how you can steer clear of the drama should your turn come, we called upon celebrity family-law and divorce lawyer Michael Kelly Esq. to give you a quick crash course. "In divorce, you have good people acting at their worst,” says Kelly. Sounds ugly. Here’s what Kelly had to say.

ESSENCE.COM:They call this time of year “divorce season”. Why is that?
MICHAEL KELLY: Our firm sometimes get twelve calls a day for our services around this time. What happens in January is really the residuals of what has happened at the end of November and throughout December. They say, the most highly emotional holiday in America is Thanksgiving, because that’s the one that always has four days worth of vacation.It's when people do the most traveling and getting together, and what I believe, is that the remembrances of things past begin to overwhelm you. You’re in a relationship, you’re miserable, and you say to yourself, I can’t take another holiday like this. You get an additional pressure in general from families. You might say to yourself, I can’t be around his Uncle Harry one more day. Then the New Year comes around, and it’s time to make resolutions, and one of the first they make is to get rid of their spouse. In addition to that, some people think that if they get a divorce at the beginning of the year, they won’t have to share their bonus with their spouse. But that’s not true at all.

ESSENCE: Is there some sort of magic number when it comes to divorce? We seem to hear the numbers 7 and 10 a lot.
KELLY: No, there isn’t legally. In California, if someone is married for ten years, it can be considered long-term marriage for long term support. The seven and the ten are pretty well acknowledged psychological markers. If you get by those, you can probably have a long run, unless you run into infidelity. What happens is, the newness of marriage goes on for maybe three years, then, unless you have been able to develop similar interests and companionship, marriage becomes a drag for a lot of people.

ESSENCE: What if you're already married, but don't have a prenuptial agreement in place?
KELLY: Try a post-nuptial agreement before divorce comes up. You can also give the person you’re signing the post-nuptial agreement with a bonus that’s, let’s say, 10-50 grand, for signing it. This is of course if you’re in the large interest or wealth category. Now, on the other side, no matter what anybody does, if the wealth existed before the marriage occurred, than a great deal of that will be separate property. Let’s say you had a 2-million-dollar house your mother left you, and all of a sudden you’re in a situation where you’re getting divorced. That house remains separate unless you put the house in your spouse’s name. That’s true for coin collections, money, stocks, and all things like that. Therefore, by being sure that you don’t put someone else’s name on [your assets] gratuitously, that’s the way to protect them best. If you both start out with zero, everything you have is community property. That’s what happened with the Kobe Bryant divorce. There was no prenuptial agreement, and he just kept earning $20 million a year. So [Vanessa's] settlement was around $75 million without even batting an eyelash.

ESSENCE: If you’re going into business together, what’s your best bet?
KELLY: If a couple is going into business together, and they’re not yet married, they should get a prenuptial agreement.  With a post nuptial agreement they can do the same thing once they’re already married. Somebody could say, I’m going to put $100,000 of my separate property into this business, but here’s the post-nuptial agreement you’re going to sign, if you want me to put that money in.

ESSENCE: How can women protect themselves no matter what?
KELLY: There are several ways. One is to have children. Then you have eighteen years worth of lifetime support, period. The law in general says that the child is entitled to the value of the father. Whatever he makes determines the child support. That’s obviously not a tactic, per say, but it is an event that has a huge result in this cases. Your husband is responsible for taking care of the child for 18 years. You will benefit from that ultimately. A woman should also be sure that she asks to be put on the title of properties that are bought. If a man marries a woman who doesn’t have any money, but what she is bringing to the marriage is only status, like in so many cases with professional athletes, she really won’t have any negotiating power. The status is in those relationships is more superficial. She should request to be given a certain amount of money to put in the bank for her every month throughout the marriage.

Do you have more questions for Kelly? Leave them in the comment section below.
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