Want a Cheaper Divorce? Go See Cal!

Virtually every native Angeleno over the age of 30 is old enough to remember the iconic "Go See Cal" series of car advertisements featuring Calvin "Cal" Worthington and his "dog Spot" that ran for several years throughout the 70s and 80s on local television. Sadly, Mr. Worthington passed away last week, at the age of 92. However, his life provides a window to highlight a unique family law issue. Worthington married (and eventually divorced) four times in his lifetime. His most recent marriage, to Anna Mjoll Olaffsdottir Worthington, an Icelandic jazz singer, nearly 50 years his junior, did not even last a year. The couple wed in April of 2012 but by December of the same year, Anna had filed for divorce. Rather than litigate the parties' dissolution, Worthington initially sought an annulment of his ephemeral marriage, claiming that his estranged wife was simply motivated by money. Ultimately, Worthington's request was denied. Although the Court ruled that he was entitled to receive over $200,000 in funds that were misappropriated from him, it also ordered him to split the proceeds from the sale of a Beverly Hills mansion that was purchased during the couple's marriage.

In all, Worthington may not have been forced to pay much for his fourth divorce in terms of property division. Although the home he acquired in Beverly Hills was estimated to be worth $3 million, unless he paid cash (in which case, he could have probably traced funds back to premarital assets and therefore not paid anything to his spouse), he probably would only be "on the hook" for the appreciation in the value of property from 2011 through the end of 2012. After factoring in realtor fees and the near $230,000 offset he was owed, Worthington probably would have owed a small (at least for him) amount to Mjoll.

By litigating the annulment, however, Worthington was forced to take his case to trial, which may have meant hundreds of thousands spent in attorney fees to both himself and Mjoll's attorney. What many do not realize is that in short term "gold-digger" marriages, it is usually impossible for the richer spouse to have acquired much by way of community property and most pre-marital assets are already deemed separate property. Therefore, if the couple has no children, many of these divorces are fairly simple in spite of the significant amount of money at issue. The key is to try to avoid dragging out litigation.

To establish an action for nullity of marriage (annulment), one side must establish (read, prove at trial) that the other spouse fraudulently entered the marriage with no intent of "being a real spouse." Often, trial testimony involves lots of "he said, she said" testimony and the stated policy of the court is to presume most marriages performed are lawful in spite of how many red flags are present (yes, even if one rich spouse marries a woman who is literally younger than some of the rich spouse's children). Worthington swung for the fences and tried to get a full annulment to avoid having to split the value of one of his homes, but ultimately, he might have been better served conceding marriage and minimizing attorney fees. The lesson as so eloquently stated by Gloria Clemente, is that "sometimes when you win, you lose."

Categories: Divorce