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I see where actors Catherine Zeta-Jones and Michael Douglas are having so much trouble working out the details of their prenuptial agreement that their wedding date is in jeopardy. As I understand it, they can’t get married because they haven’t yet finalized the terms of their divorce. Yes, Virginia, the rich are different. This kind of institutionalized pessimism isn’t a problem for us peons. We tend to assume the marriage will work, at least partly because contemplating our likely assets some years down the road tends to be a little depressing. If my wife had cared enough to haggle, she could have gotten a TV, half a computer, a complete set of Mighty Ducks drinking cups[FN1] and a half-interest in a six-year old Pontiac. She chose — inexplicably — to do without a prenup. But Zeta-Jones and Douglas are $3 million apart in their negotiations. Three million a year! According to Reuters News Service, Zeta-Jones is “distraught” because she wants $4.5 million for every year they’re together before the inevitable meltdown, and Douglas is only willing to give her $1.5 million a year. Another way of putting this is that she thinks living with him is going to be such a monumental pain in the arse [FN2] it’s going to be worth $4.5 million per year, and he expects to be only $1.5 million worth of obnoxious every year. I can see where this would be a tough call. I discussed it with my wife, Kelly, and she thinks Zeta-Jones is a little on the high side. Kelly thinks once a man gets past 50 (Douglas is 55; I’m 52), his instinct for orneriness increases, but his ability to execute it diminishes — as does everything else except his belly — at an even greater rate. She thinks living with me is worth no more than $3.25 mil a year, and she would take that right now if she could get it. [FN3] But Zeta-Jones may be looking at a little more wear-and-tear than Kelly. After all, Douglas just paid a $60 million settlement to his last wife, conceding that one of the problems with the marriage was that he is a self-confessed “sex addict.” I was going to ask Kelly how this affected her view of the fairness of the settlement, but realized it would lead me into a discussion which necessitated comparing sex with me to sex with Michael Douglas. I decided this was not a conversation I needed to have. [FN4] Suffice it to say this is an issue which will doubtless eat up many, many billable hours for Michael and Catherine’s lawyers, psychiatrists, aura-therapists and psychic friends. And fast. Because, according to Reuters, “Friends of Zeta-Jones, star of such films as Entrapment and The Mask of Zorro, said she was distraught at the financial cloud hanging over both her wedding and the birth of her first child, due in five weeks’ time.” Oops. Five weeks, eh? Well, I can see where that might add to the pressure. I imagine most obstetricians advise against a lot of haggling over prenups during the last trimester of pregnancy. In that regard, it’s difficult to say whether Zeta-Jones is better or worse off than Sun Bonds. Sun, you may remember, dropped by the lawyer’s office on her way to the airport to fly to Las Vegas for her wedding the next day to baseball star Barry Bonds. That’s when Bonds’ lawyer told her “there would not be a wedding if she did not sign the premarital agreement.” [FN5] Sun’s time pressures were therefore more intense — but less permanent — than Zeta-Jones’. Which brings us to another interesting wrinkle in the Douglas-Zeta-Jones case. The California Supreme Court is — even as we read — struggling with the significance of legal representation in these matters.[FN6] A divided First District Court of Appeal held that the Bonds prenup required heightened scrutiny because, inter alia, Sun was unrepresented. And, according to the London Sun, “While Douglas employs a team of hot-shot lawyers, Zeta-Jones . . . relies on her father Dai to look after her finances.” Man, oh man, the lawyers involved in this must be licking their chops. I’ll bet there’s saliva all over their yacht brochures. This case is a gold mine. Not only is Zeta-Jones represented by her father, but she is a Welsh citizen living in Los Angeles, while Douglas is an American with homes in New York and Spain. Spain?! Wales?! This is the conflict-of-laws equivalent of a train wreck in a blizzard. Can you imagine the consternation of a Welsh law firm asked to compare and contrast their case law on unrepresented prenuptial agreements entered into on foreign soil by a seriously pregnant Welsh national with the case law of Spain on the same topic? Can you imagine how unhappy they’ll be that none of them knows a yacht broker? Because once they — or their heirs and assigns (if this thing bogs down as much as I think it will [FN7]) — finally get some poor court somewhere on the planet to take a stab at what law to apply, they have to deal with some really difficult issues. For one thing, there’s the wedding gifts. Reuters says Zeta-Jones has already agreed that everything valued at more than $18,000 will be Douglas’ to keep. The rest is hers. What a coincidence: I got the same deal from my wife. But I’m a little surprised that’s Douglas’ deal. Re-read that paragraph. The unrepresented ing�nue gets everything valued at less than $18,000 and the sleazy, grasping dirty-old-man with the “hot-shot team of lawyers” gets the rest. Michael. Buddy. Listen to me. Fire the lawyers and hire an accountant. Wedding gifts worth more than $18,000? Who’s coming to this wedding — Bill Gates, Michael Jordan and Argentina? Where do you register for $20,000 wedding gifts? What do you get for that? Six hundred Pilsner glasses? Titanium knives and forks? Is a $20,000 food processor a guy named Jacques? This has to be a mistake, right? Nobody intentionally contracts away all the wedding gifts worth less than $18,000. So I figure the Welsh and Spanish lawyers are going to have to spend some time learning American law pertaining to capacity to contract. Somebody’s bound to argue that Michael was non compos mentis when he made this deal. That should be good for another decade of court battles. Not to mention the more mundane legal arithmetic. Let’s suppose the Zeta-Jones-Douglases are able to agree that living together is $3 million a year worth of painful. Let’s suppose they write that into their agreement. Then let’s posit a marriage of 4.5 years duration. How do we split up that last $3 million for the fractional year? Do Catherine and the baby [FN8] get $1.5 million? Do they get nothing unless they stick it out until the wooden anniversary date? [FN9] Do we round up to five years of marriage, like the cell phone companies do minutes on your phone charges, and give them the full $3 million even though they bailed halfway through? Do we apply the sex-addiction multiplier which will doubtless be part of California law by the time this case is resolved by a specially-appointed Hague commission in the year 2040? And what about the baby? Does the baby have to cut a separate deal? If she arrives before the wedding — as presently planned — is she entitled to a guardian ad nuptiam and a re-opening of the prenup negotiations? Or does she just fall into the “gift worth more than $18,000″ category and go off to live with Douglas? These are really difficult issues. I’m glad I don’t have to deal with them. But I feel bad knowing that somewhere, right now, there are seven blissful little kids riding their bikes or playing soccer or reading Harry Potter books oblivious to the sobering fact that they will someday be asked by The Hague to decide this case. And none of them will ever receive an $18,000 wedding gift. FOOTNOTES: 1 I had two sets. 2 Since she’s Welsh, I thought it appropriate to use Welsh terminology. 3 This led to a very therapeutic discussion in which we set a mutual buy-out number of $3.2 million. First one of us who can come up with $3.2 mil can buy the other out. Since we both work for the government, I figure I can safely begin shopping for silver anniversary gifts. 4 Even though Kelly still insists she never had sex with Michael Douglas. 5 What a shame: I finally get around to discussing a California case with you, something from which you might actually benefit, and I find myself quoting a depublished opinion. Life is so cruel. 6 I was going to say “affairs” but it sounded judgmental, somehow. 7 I figure this case will be the Certified Family Law Specialist Examination until the year 2026. 8 Or babies. Plural. Sex addiction is not like cocaine or compulsive gambling: It tends to add things to your life rather than subtracting them. 9 Honest, I looked it up. The fifth anniversary is the wooden anniversary. This could complicate things even further. Given the scale on which these people operate, if Catherine stayed on until the fifth anniversary, she’d probably get a paper mill. Might be worth sticking it out that last six months if the mill had sound quarterlies. William W. Bedsworth is an associate justice at the California 4th District Court of Appeal.

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