In a surprise move, almost immediately following the flotation of Facebook, its founder Mark Zuckerberg, a man who is intensely private, changed his status to “Married”. He had secretly married his girlfriend, Priscilla Chan, whom he met at Harvard and had been in a relationship with for over seven years.
It is not known whether they entered into a pre-nuptial agreement, but as a shrewd businessman, it seems likely. If not, it could be a very costly exercise if the marriage breaks down. Under California law, all property acquired by a married person during the marriage is community property and should be divided equally. So, if they had married the day before the release of the shares onto Wall Street, Mrs Zuckerberg may well be entitled to half of the value of Mr Zuckerberg’s payment from the flotation – a very nice wedding present! In England it would be a very different outcome, particularly if the marriage was of short duration.
So what would Ms Chan be entitled to if they remained unmarried? Unlike in England, Common Law Marriage used to be legal in California but was abolished in 1896, although it remains valid in some states. Unless they had entered into a cohabitee contract, she would get nothing of his fortune. That is the same law as in England – unless you can show a contract/formal agreement or a direct and measureable agreement, then you may receive
nothing from your partner, even after a very long relationship. There is no such thing as Common Law Marriage in England – despite what the soap operas say!
It is always better to be protected – if you are marrying you should consider a pre-nuptial agreement and if cohabiting, a cohabitation contract.
For more information, contact a member of our Family team on 01625 442100.