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Maria Shriver & Arnold Schwarzenegger Divorce: $400 Million at Stake

The first stage of a celebrity divorce is a deep dive into the prurient details. We all feel guilty for indulging, but heck, it's just hard to ignore. After going through that phase, I usually go to my area of expertise-the money. So that's where I am today in the Arnold Schwarzenegger-Maria Shriver mess.

In a welcome break from the often one-sided financial disputes between couples, this high profile break-up is different, because both members of the couple came into the marriage worth a pretty penny. Arnold was a self-made movie star and Maria was a Kennedy, who had worked in broadcasting for many years.

As far as I can tell from the scant details available, it looks like Arnold and Maria have an estimated net worth of more than $200 million today and some estimates put it closer to $400 million. They had so much money that Arnold donated his entire California governor's salary of $206,500 to charity.

Regardless of what each of them brought into the marriage, they live in California, one of ten community property states. (Community property states include California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Washington, Idaho, Louisiana, Nevada, Wisconsin and Alaska, where couples can opt-in for community property).

The concept of community property derives from Spanish law, which is why it found mostly in western states. When a couple gets divorced in a community property state, the assets are apportioned based on very specific rules. Community property is defined as the money you earn or acquire during the marriage and is co-owned by both parties, regardless of who earned it or whose name is on the title. Whatever you bring into the marriage or receive individually through gifts or inheritances remains yours, as long as you keep it in your name only. However, once you commingle assets in a joint account, those assets will likely get lumped in as community property. Given that Maria's father, Sargent Shriver, died earlier this year, this could be an important distinction.

The law requires that the community estate be divided equally if there is no written agreement to the contrary. But if Maria and Arnold had entered into a pre-nuptial agreement prior to their marriage, the split of assets may have already been determined, which would certainly make the financial part of the process easier.

One last thing: when early details of a potential $60 million settlement between Tiger Woods and Elin Nordegren emerged, some folks got up in arms when I wrote a tongue-in-cheek post about Elin translating her personal misery into a nice pay day. This may be shocking (she says, dripping with sarcasm), but the responses varied based on sex. Men were outraged that I thought Elin should get as much money as possible and women thought Elin deserved every last penny. Let's see if the Maria/Arnold dispute elicits similar commentary.

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Image by Flickr User schumachergirl1956, CC 2.0
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