Shriver-Schwarzenegger Divorce: A Legal Perspective

It is shocking but not unexpected, to hear that the Governator had a love child. What is even more distressing is that he had this child with a married employee.
05/24/2011 05:46 pm ET Updated Jul 24, 2011

It is shocking but not unexpected, to hear that the Governator had a love child. What is even more distressing is that he had this child with a married employee. One of the hardest betrayals for a spouse to absorb is not only an affair , but a child born and hidden. This changes the paradigm of marriage and divorce on so many levels. Now not only is the marriage itself subject to review in the light of the incredible secret, but the children have been betrayed as well. They have a sibling they did not know was a sibling. That is horrendously disconcerting and the length of time the whole thing was kept secret just makes it worse. This is as bad a betrayal, of his wife, his children and the voters of California as John Edwards' tawdry behavior.

But no matter how hard the reality, the financial and legal results are pretty much the same. I would speculate that they had (or should have had) a prenuptial agreement. Under the circumstances of the marriage (her family wealth, both of their then careers) a prenuptial would have made sense, to at least set the parameters for division of property and spousal support. Prenuptial agreements cannot effect children's rights so custody and child support would not have been covered in a prenuptial. If they did not have one, California is a community property state and much of their joint wealth has presumably been accumulated in the time of their marriage, and thus will be equally divided. Interestingly, once they separate their incomes become their own. At their level of wealth, the fight -- if there is one -- will be about values, not division. They also will not need to worry about the economics that most of us have to: health insurance, long term care insurance, life insurance and social security and retirement money.

It appears they will share custody of their youngest child. It also appears that Mr. Schwarzenegger is not going to try to be a gentleman. When asked to move out of the house after his behavior came to light, he reportedly refused. Now Maria has hired a tough celebrity divorce attorney and rumors are beginning to surface that she is the one who leaked the infidelity story to the press. One of the side benefits of considerable wealth is there is no need to struggle to stretch to meet the costs of two households. This does not, however, always result in a civil divorce. While the Gores appear to have managed a civil separation (if not divorce as yet), at least in public, this past year has been replete with stories about how the McCourts, spectacularly, did not.

Schwarzenegger and Shriver don't need to worry, as do more ordinary folk, about how seriously a divorce will affect their economic picture, but the emotions will no doubt be the same. What they must deal with is the omnipresent media. Perhaps without it the marriage would have cratered sooner or perhaps they kept up a faᅢᄃade to facilitate his political career, but there is no doubt that they will be inundated now. Quite frankly, I am most surprised at the candid nature of the tweets and Facebook postings that are being reported for Maria. She had clearly been hinting that this was in the cards. She also is giving insight into how difficult this is for anyone divorcing. It is not just the financial changes or agreements, but it's the very central change in your own perception of who you are. The older the couple, the longer the marriage, the worse this disconnect can be.