While most marriages are entered into with a great deal of bliss and optimism, nonetheless many of those marriages end in divorce. From an estate planning perspective, it always prudent for a marrying couple to enter into a prenuptial agreement that proactively addresses spousal support requirements and division of assets as well as in the event of divorce. The importance of prenuptial agreements is even greater in circumstances where the marriage is a second marriage for one or both members of the couple and when there is a large amount of assets at stake. Comedian Chris Rock and his wife Malaak Compton Rock got married in 1996. Before they wed, they purportedly signed a prenuptial agreement. In December 2014, Mr. Rock filed for divorce.
Since the terms of Chris Rock’s prenuptial agreement was never made public, we cannot know for certain exactly how the agreement directed the prospective division of assets and spousal support obligations. But it is reasonable to infer there was nothing deficient in the document per se in terms of an equitable approach to the interests of Mr. Rock and Ms. Compton Rock. However, we do know for a fact that the document included one glaringly problematic provision that makes a huge difference in how their pending divorce proceedings have commenced. If you do the math, you can easily calculate that the Rocks’ marriage began nearly 20 years ago. Yet their prenuptial agreement contained a clause commonly called a “sunset provision” that mandated that the terms of the agreement expired immediately after their 18th wedding anniversary. That means that the agreement has now expired.
We cannot see the wisdom in the use of a sunset provision in a prenuptial agreement and we would be hard-pressed to come up with any examples of circumstances where a self-expiring provision in such a document makes sense. In the case of the Rocks’ divorce, the document is now worthless and will have no impact on the eventual divorce settlement. Ms. Compton Rock is therefore in a much stronger position in her fight to claim a significant share of Mr. Rock’s approximately $70 million fortune since her claims are no longer limited by whatever was originally spelled out in the expired prenuptial agreement.
But beyond a simple document drafting lesson in avoiding a particularly foolish expiration clause in a prenuptial agreement, we see another very important estate planning point to be learned. We are strong proponents that even the most carefully crafted and thoroughly implemented estate plan must be maintained over time if it is going to be relied upon to achieve intended results. That is the central premise of our LifeBridge™ program where enrolled members have their plan reviewed and updated in an annual structured process. But it seems abundantly clear to us that Mr. Rock either did not understand that the sunset provision in the prenuptial agreement had nullified the original agreement or he failed to see the need to try to implement a new postnuptial agreement after the original one expired. Of course, if the Rocks’ relationship was already rocky his wife may not have been willing to agree to a new agreement. But that just reinforces our original point that it was foolish to execute an agreement that was only good for 18 years when their marriage could easily surpass 18 years but still end in a divorce which is precisely what has happened.
In all likelihood, like many people, the prenuptial agreement was probably simply stored in a safe deposit box, filing cabinet or a shelf somewhere and forgotten about. If Mr. Rock had reviewed and updated his estate plan periodically, we are confident he might not be in quite so bad a predicament as he is in now.
Please call us at 860-769-6938 if you have any questions about the issues presented above or if you care to discuss any other planning issues with us.