Oprah Winfrey, her Father's Divorce, and Evictions

November 6, 2012

Oprah Winfrey has become entangled in her father Vernon Winfrey's divorce. Vernon married his current wife, Barbara Winfrey, in 2000. Vernon's divorce papers contain allegations that Barbara engaged in "inappropriate marital conduct," which refers to an extramarital affair. In her response, Barbara accuses Vernon of violent outbursts including an incident where he chased her with a gun and threatened to pull the trigger.

During their marriage, the couple has enjoyed living in a $1.4 million dollar home in Nashville. The home is owned by a trust, which was created and funded by Oprah. Vernon filed for divorce in Franklin, Tennessee in June of 2012. As a result of the divorce process, the Davidson County Sheriff's deputies had an order to evict Ashley Williams, Oprah's stepsister, from the Winfrey marital residence. However, the attorney for the trust had the order rescinded. The relationship between Oprah and Barbara seems beyond repair; however, that tension does not seem to extend to Oprah's relationship with her stepsister.

According to the court papers, Barbara is seeking spousal support from Vernon and, although she pays no mortgage or rent, she claims her living expenses amount to $11,924 per month. Vernon claims that he has no financial ability to provide support to Barbara and, after bills each month, he is only left with approximately $282.33.

Unlike in California, Tennessee allows both "fault" and "no-fault" divorces. The no-fault grounds for a Tennessee divorce are: (1) irreconcilable differences and (2) spouses are not cohabitating and have lived in separate residences for at least two years. The fault grounds for a Tennessee divorce include: (1) either spouse has committed adultery (2) economic fault and (3) domestic violence. The Winfrey divorce papers seem to allege both adultery and domestic violence. Both parties deny the allegations against them and they may have been made to gain an advantage in the dissolution process. Economic fault can have a significant impact on the division of the marital estate.

In Tennessee, the court will consider sixteen factors when making an award of spousal support. Because it seems that the Winfrey's did not own much property, support will likely be the most litigated issue in their case. One of the factors considered by Tennessee courts is "the marital conduct of the parties during marriage." This is evidence of the fault aspect of Tennessee divorce law. In California, the only marital conduct that is relevant when setting spousal support is domestic violence. Extramarital affairs are irrelevant to the court's consideration of spousal support.

Please contact us if you are considering a divorce from your spouse, a legal separation, or have questions regarding child custody and visitation. Nancy J. Bickford is the only lawyer in San Diego County representing clients in divorces, who is a Certified Family Law Specialist (CFLS) and who is actively licensed as a Certified Public Accountant (CPA). Don't settle for less when determining your rights. Call 858-793-8884 in Del Mar, Carmel Valley, North County or San Diego.