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Depp divorce settlement may be modest

California residents will have probably learned that Johnny Depp and Amber Heard are breaking up after only 15 months of marriage. Media reports about celebrity divorces often place an emphasis on the assets owned by the couple in question and the size of the anticipated settlement, but California's strict community property laws may give those writing about the Depp and Heard divorce little to excite their readers.

This is because California law, while requiring that marital property be divided equally, only takes into account assets acquired during the marriage. Depp's last few films have failed to live up to expectations at the box office, so the actor's estate likely did not increase by very much during his brief marriage to Heard. A portion of Depp's extensive art collection is scheduled to be auctioned off in London in late June, but the sale of nine works by New York City artist Jean-Michel Basquiat will likely not affect his upcoming divorce because the actor acquired the paintings before marrying Heard.

The sale of the paintings would raise questions if Depp and Heard had purchased them during their marriage. Judges may treat spouses harshly when their behavior indicates that they are trying to get around property division laws by disposing of marital assets. Many observers believe that Depp and Heard will try to keep publicity to a minimum by seeking a quick and confidential settlement.

Couples who do not wish their property to be divided under community property laws may choose to enter into prenuptial or postnuptial agreements. Their respective attorneys may explain that taking this path allows them to establish their own rules for matters such as spousal support and property division. Attorneys could also encourage their clients to conduct all negotiations in good faith and disclose all assets in order to to increase the likelihood that the resulting agreement will withstand judicial scrutiny.

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