If this was the summer of love, then this fall will be the autumn of lawyers. Of the three A-list engagements that sprang up this year — Priyanka and Nick, Hailey and Justin, and Ariana and Pete — all will likely be mounting prenuptial agreements before officially tying the knot. Or postnuptial agreements, depending on their timeline.
“In these types of situations, whether it be a Justin Bieber-Hailey Baldwin situation or whether it be an Ariana Grande situation, I would bet in both marriages that there will be prenups,” says matrimonial lawyer Robert Wallack, whose NYC-based firm repped Gossip Girl star Kelly Rutherford during her very public custody battle.
A quick recap for those who were, until now, oblivious to prenuptial agreements: They are contracts, drafted by matrimonial lawyers, that stipulate how a couple’s assets will be divided if they divorce. They detail what spousal support will look like, and they ensure that both parties, in the best case scenario, don’t end up destitute. Still, they can’t dictate child custody rules, and — sorry, tabloids — can’t really enforce lifestyle stipulations. There are rumors that Beyonce has a cheating clause in her agreement with Jay-Z. This is cool, but, er, if that ever made its way to a court, a judge could easily dismiss accusations of cheating.
“People can agree to anything,” says Laura Wasser, a divorce lawyer so seasoned she has a podcast called The Divorce Sucks Podcast. She’s handled everything, from Kim Kardashian’s split from Kris Humphries to Charlie Sheen to Angelina Jolie’s separation from both Brad Pitt and Billy Bob Thornton. (She and Jolie recently parted ways — Wasser was previously working on Jolie’s split from Brad Pitt.) She’s a favorite of the Kardashians, having handled Khloe’s divorce from Lamar Odom and Kris Jenner’s as well. (She recently had Jenner on her podcast.) “But if somebody agrees to an infidelity clause,” she says, “and then they cheat, and then the spouse says, 'There's this infidelity clause' — in California at least, the court is not going to uphold them. They can't uphold things that have to do with people's behavior.”
California is a sticking point here. It’s a “community property” state in terms of divorce, which means, unless there’s a watertight prenuptial agreement, state law splits all things evenly. For our young engaged couples, this is a big deal. Justin Bieber is worth an estimated $265 million dollars, Ariana Grande a slightly slimmer $50 million to Pete Davidson’s reported $2 million and both Nick Jonas and Priyanka Chopra are both sitting pretty on about $25 million dollars. And they should all expect to make more in the next few years.
Things can change, though. What if Justin Bieber takes time off, and, during that time, Hollywood scion Hailey Baldwin becomes Forbes’ next self-made billionaire? What if Pete Davidson becomes the next comedy blockbuster superstar a la Jerry Seinfeld? Wasser says this type of shortsighted view can ruin an agreement.
“It's interesting — I've done some prenups for people where one person is more famous than the other, and so they're kind of shielding their assets and making agreements about not having to pay any spousal support if and when the parties when they split up,” Wasser says. “Then they're married for five or six years, and the person they were trying to make more assets from is making more money than they are. The tables turned!”
"My goodness does feel good to have our future secured!"
The fact is, celebrities have a lot of money, and that money needs to be protected. Nashville-based business manager Mike Vaden — who Billboard named as one of the music industry’s top managers in 2017 — says that, in general, pre-nuptial agreements are more important when the marriage occurs between a celebrity and a non-celebrity.
“A marriage is hard enough for most people to maintain,” says Vaden. “But, for an entertainer, who's on the road all the time, it's doubly hard. Unfortunately, they get into marriages quickly, and they get out of them quickly. Everybody needs to be protected.”
And, a prenuptial agreement between two very famous people is often simpler than it sounds. “If two people are celebrities and both are wealthy in their own right, they would generally keep what they have and what they make, and their income would be their income,” says Vaden. “Most of the time, what they'll do is start a joint bank account, if both of them are pretty well-heeled.”
Ostensibly, if Pete Davidson keeps on signing movie contracts and Ariana Grande keeps making music, their agreement should be pretty standard: Let’s keep what we have and then start a joint account for all of the beanbags we’ll be buying for our $16 million apartment in New York City. (To be clear, Davidson did tell GQ that Grande bought that apartment herself. That asset will likely be hers and hers only for the rest of her life.)
Most likely, they’ll all sign prenuptial agreements in a state like New York, which is more protective over the assets of the two parties involved (this could explain Bieber and Baldwin’s New York marriage license). Again, California is the outlier here.
"If you live in a community property state like California, and you get married on September 18, and you go perform on September 20, and you get $100,000, and then you divorce on September 21, [half] of that would go to your spouse," Wasser explains. This is something Vaden also emphasizes: Short marriages, especially in California, can really hurt you, but a prenup protects against this.
"So, [they] would say, 'Well, I'm not interested in having the law define how I divide my assets if I split up, and I'd rather say that the money I make remains my separate property, but I'll contribute to the joint account or to the community," Wasser explains. By “community,” Wasser is referring to the assets that will, in the event of a split, be determined “community property.” These things will be split evenly in a divorce — so, a joint bank account that a couple keeps flush during a marriage will be sliced in half, easy-peasy.
The options here are: Split your assets according to the state law, or split your assets according to the terms you've agreed on with your lawyer. Going prenup-less isn't going to make a marriage less painful — looking at you, Hailey Baldwin and Justin Bieber, the couple who is rumored to be going into married life without one. (Kristen Bell and Dax Shepard have also said that they didn't sign a prenup.)
The marriage doesn’t have to happen in New York to operate under its state laws, though — you can specify that in the agreement. And you can get married anywhere! The most important part is, get the damn prenup.
"The first thing [a couple will] say when they're getting a divorce is, 'Holy shit, I wish I'd signed a prenup," says Wallack.
Vaden (a business manager), Wasser, and Wallack agree that prenups are more commonplace with older people, especially people who've been married before. But there's been an uptick in prenups among young people. Regina DiMeo, a divorce attorney based in D.C., says that millennials are more money conscious than previous generations.
"Generally, younger professional couples want to protect against debt, unlimited alimony, and maybe protect inheritance [or] premarital assets, but they still have a vision of creating a family and accumulating wealth together," DiMeo says. Older couples, meanwhile, have maybe already made their money, for the most part, and are just looking for "companionship," per DiMeo.
From Wasser: "I am seeing definitely a trend to people in the entertainment industry entering — definitely millennials entering into them, entertainment industry or not — I think people are getting married a little bit later, and also with a little bit more information about what being married entails. About that this, too, is a contract." As with all contracts, breaking it is a pain that will involve pricey lawyers who charge roughly $850 an hour, as Wasser does, and disagreements, most of which concerns spousal support. (According to DiMeo, D.C.-based family lawyers with more than 15 year of experience will charge between $350 - $550 per hour.)
For celebrities, who exist in the semi-public at all times, divorces run the risk of becoming tabloid fodder, the way that Alec Baldwin (Hailey’s uncle) and Kim Basinger did back in 2001. The couple famously didn’t sign a prenup and battled in court for years, adding up to a reported $3 million in legal costs. It was this divorce that reportedly led to Baldwin’s angry phone call — you know the one, where he called his daughter (Hailey’s cousin) Ireland a pig? Which isn’t to say that a prenup protects against foul behavior, but it certainly provides that you don’t have to deal with the nasty stuff.
If you live in a community property state like California, and you get married on September 18, and you go perform on September 20, and you get $100,000, and then you divorce on September 21, [half] of that would go to your spouse.
Laura Wasser, divorce attorney
So, why would someone forgo a prenup, especially a young, rapidly rising star? Well, they take time, mainly in the tallying of assets and in the negotiating.
"There are still circumstances where they didn't sign a prenup. Maybe [the couple] just never got around to it, or they have a more romanticized view of it — they never thought it would end, so they didn't want to deal with that type of issue," says Wallack, who says he hasn't been approached about drafting a Justailey prenup. (Lawyers usually draft the prenup alongside a business manager and, occasionally, an entertainment lawyer as well.) Adds Wallack, "Other times, you'll have one party who just refuses to sign it, and you'll have people getting married anyway."
If a couple fails to get a prenup because, say, they rushed to City Hall or eloped in Vegas, all hope is not lost. They can still get a postnuptial agreement — a post-wedding agreement done after all the fun, frilly romantic stuff. These agreements operate the same way as a prenup; they're just harder to get done. You know when you say you're going to do something and then you write it off until tomorrow? Yeah.
"Those are harder to draft, because often the person is like, 'Well, I already married you. Why would I do a post-nup now? Doesn't make any sense!'" says Wasser. There have been reports that Hailey Baldwin and Justin Bieber are drafting a postnup following their (maybe) City Hall wedding this month. This can happen, and should happen, but it's going to take a minute. Both Bieber and Baldwin will have to disclose all of their assets — everything they own, and every paycheck they've received for the past two years. And then, they have to make an agreement. Following that, they have to negotiate, which is a slow process in part because it's painful. Who wants to lawyer up when you should be shopping for wedding rings?
In his Instagram post announcing his engagement, Bieber wrote, rather exuberantly, "My goodness does feel good to have our future secured!"
But is his financial future secured? Only his lawyer (and maybe Scooter Braun) knows.