On May 19, 2012, Priscilla Chan married the creator of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg. The couple met in 2003 at a fraternity party at Harvard where they both attended college. The wedding ceremony took place at the home they share in Palo Alto and most of the details are still being kept private. However, the wedding date has sparked the most media attention. Mark and Priscilla tied the knot just one day after Mark’s company went public. On his wedding day, Mark owned 503 million shares of Facebook, which at the time, was worth an estimated $17 billion. Sources indicate that Priscilla has no interest in Mark’s fortune. In fact, she recently graduated from medical school at the University of California, San Francisco and plans to pursue a career as a pediatrician.
San Diego is located in one of the few states that have adopted community property laws. In community property states, any property acquired prior to marriage is separate property. Separate property will be awarded to the owner upon divorce without offset. Anything acquired after marriage is community property and generally distributed equally upon divorce. According to these laws, any property owned by Mark or Priscilla prior to marriage is their respective separate property and will be distributed to the owner upon divorce. However, after marriage, any earnings of Mark or Priscilla will become community property. In other jurisdictions, courts apply the equitable division rules. Under this statutory scheme, all property owned by either party at divorce is divided equitably by the courts regardless of ownership prior to marriage.
Although Mark has made it clear that his Facebook fortune is his separate property by marrying Priscilla the day after his company went public, the distinction between separate and community property can become blurred over time. Once separate property becomes commingled with community assets, the spouses must keep diligent records of the source of the funds or risk transforming once separate property into community property.
The main question upon the Zuckerberg divorce would be whether Priscilla is entitled to the increased value, if any, of Mark’s Facebook stock. The general rule in California is that stock acquired prior to marriage remains the owner separate property upon divorce or legal separation. However, the Zuckerberg case will be different because it is Mark’s job to continue to contribute to the growth of Facebook as well as its stock. So this situation begs the question – is the increased value of the Facebook stock merely stock or Mark’s earnings during the marriage? One possible solution to this gray area would be the creation of a premarital agreement. Prior to marriage, Priscilla and Mark had the option of determining how the increased value would be divided upon divorce. In the past, Priscilla had Mark sign a “relationship agreement” outlining the details of their relationship before she would agree to move to California to be with him. Considering the massive fortune at stake and the previous history between the parties, it is likely that the parties executed a premarital agreement prior to marriage.
Please contact us if you are considering a divorce from your spouse. Nancy J. Bickford is the only attorney 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.