Family Law Corner: How “California Love” and Marriage Differs from North Carolina

What do Kurt Cobain and Tupac Shakur have in common aside from legendary status and huge estates? Family members who want to keep those estates for themselves. Frances Bean Cobain, daughter of Kurt Cobain and Courtney Love, is divorcing her husband of almost two years, The Eeries frontman Isaiah Silva. Even though she just filed for divorce, Cobain is making it clear in her Petition that her father’s $450 million estate is her separate property and should not be divided. Tupac Shakur’s mother (and heir), former Black Panther Afeni Shakur, faces a similar situation.  Afeni Shakur is divorcing her husband of twelve years, Gust Davis, who is going after the income from the Shakur estate (which generates $900,000 a year), as well as a portion of the estate itself.

While Cobain can be relatively sure that her father’s estate is protected, Shakur has less certainty. Shakur is divorcing in North Carolina, while Cobain is divorcing in California. In North Carolina, equitable division is the method of dividing property upon divorce, which means that all property of both parties may be divided by the Court to ensure fairness.

In California, with limited exceptions, Courts do not divide separate property. Family Code §770 defines separate property as “all property owned by the person before marriage” and “all property acquired by the person after marriage by gift, bequest, devise, or descent.” Both Cobain and Shakur’s inheritances would be separate property under the California system and separate property does not change its character just through marriage or change in form or identity.  In re marriage of Weaver (1990) 224 Cal.App.3d 478, 484.

However, separate property income is available for spousal support. Family Code §4338.  As Cobain and Shakur invest their inheritance or receive income from the rights to the music produced by these artists, that income is available to pay spousal support.

It seems that both Shakur and Cobain’s marriages did not have premarital agreements. Having a premarital agreement could have protected Tupac’s Dear Mama from having to pay spousal support.  As for Cobain, All Apologies, to the petite heiress, but even though young love can feel like Nirvana, You Know You’re Right to get a pre-nup next time.