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Facebook founder's marriage sparks talk of prenup

With spring in the air, weddings abound even in an era of rapidly changing family models. The recent marriage of Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg to his longtime girlfriend has, like many a high-profile coupling, thrown prenuptial agreements once again into the realm of public discussion among people in Houston, Texas, and around the country.

As with many topics within family law, such as divorce or child custody, prenuptial agreements can be a sensitive yet important topic between partners. In Texas, prenups can cover areas as diverse as spousal maintenance and property division. In California, where Zuckerberg married his college sweetheart, prenups also cover a variety of family and financial concerns.

With estimates of his net worth at $17 billion, Zuckerberg would certainly have a host of good reasons to utilize the benefits of a prenup. While some view a prenuptial agreement as an anticipation of a divorce, the agreement is actually a clarification of shared concerns.

Both California and Texas are community property states. A common misconception is that this means property is split 50/50 in the event of a divorce. What the designation actually means, however, is that property acquired during the marriage is treated differently than property acquired after the marriage, among other general rules.

Only a handful of states use community property guidelines in divorce proceedings. An important date in these types of states is the timing of the marriage itself. Property that one spouse acquires before the marriage will likely be retained by that individual afterwards if a couple calls it quits. Judges consider property obtained during the marriage, however, to be community property. While he isn't saying why, Zuckerberg waited to marry until just after his company's much-heralded initial public offering.

Family law experts point to Facebook stock as one area in which there could be questions over Zuckerberg's wife's entitlement. Previously owned stock often remains separate property, but when a spouse's professional duty involves upping the value of said stock, confusion may arise if a breakup occurs. This is one of many reasons why prenuptial agreements should be discussed long before wedding bells ring.

Source: The New York Times, "Zuckerberg's property status, post-marriage," Tara Siegel Bernard, May 21, 2012

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Attorney Christine K. Lincoln

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