As celebrity watchers and the public devour news about Tiger Woods' infidelity scandal and upcoming divorce, it's understandable for people to be interested in the details of a high-profile, high-asset divorce like that of Woods and his wife Elin Nordegren.
While gossip and speculation run rampant in celebrity cases, in many ways, Woods and Nordegren are just like other divorcing couples. What may surprise many is that the legal process of a high-asset divorce is also essentially the same.
Options for Keeping a High-Asset Divorce More Private
Despite the public's appetite for details, celebrity couples can often keep those details relatively private. Generally, divorce petitions are a matter of public record. Most judges require a very good reason to change that, but a sympathetic judge might do so if he or she determined it was in the best interests of the children.
The best strategy for keeping details private is to limit what information they include in that petition. Decisions about property division, child custody and child support can be handled through private divorce settlement agreements, and they often include confidentiality clauses.
"Courts recognize there's a balance of equity between the public's right to know and the privacy of a family," one celebrity divorce lawyer explained in a recent Associated Press story. "And because there are children involved, the court is always sort of a guardian of the children's best interests. Confidentiality is most likely even in Tiger's case."
Separating Fact From Fiction
As early as May, many were speculating that Nordegren could get $750 million in the divorce settlement. More recently, however, financial experts have pointed out that $750 million probably exceeds Tiger Woods' entire net worth.
That kind of misinformation isn't surprising, considering the couple's fame. Putting rumors and privacy concerns aside, however, divorce law will treat a high-asset divorce much the same as any other.
Woods and Nordegren are likely to file for divorce in Florida, because that is where their two primary homes are. The press has speculated that Nordegren might file in her native Sweden, but unfavorable tax rules and international child custody treaties make that much less likely.
Division of Marital Assets, Child Custody and Child Support
Many wealthy couples have prenuptial agreements, although there is no public information about whether Woods and Nordegren do. If they have a prenup and the court determines it is legal, they would divide their marital assets according to that agreement.
If they don't have a prenup, they would follow the same rules for marital property division as anyone else. Anything Woods or Nordegren earned while they were married would be put into a pot with other assets the couple owned jointly. Assuming they filed in Florida, that pot would then be divided "equitably."
Although "equitable" division doesn't necessarily mean a 50/50 split, it's a fair guess that Nordegren would be entitled to approximately half of their shared assets. She wouldn't be entitled to anything Woods earned before they were married, but if they invested that money, she would likely get half of any returns on those investments that accrued during the marriage.
Child custody and visitation decisions are somewhat more flexible, but in the vast majority of cases, courts hold that kids benefit from substantial, rich relationships with both parents. In Florida and most states, child support is based on legal guidelines. Parents can agree to exceed the recommendation of the child support guidelines, but generally can't agree to go lower.
"A Tiger divorce: What's fact, fiction?" (Associated Press, July 5, 2010)