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Family Law Meets Reality TV: "Untying the Knot" Episode 1

"I don't regret being married to my wife but I do blame her for ruining my life" -Mickey Wright

This season "Untying the Knot" returns with full hour episodes (first season was only 30 mins) and we get a look into the property division facet of divorce. My goal with this blog is to recap the episode and point out real life vs. reality tv highlights.

In Episode One, we meet Mickey AKA Memphitz and Toya Wright (who also happens to be Lil Wayne's ex wife- her first marriage).  They have been married for four years, but separated six months ago.  The fracture in their relationship began over allegations Mickey faced and how he perceived Toya supported (or didn't support) him. 

When Vikki meets this couple, their largest asset has already been divided.  Toya is going to keep their marital home.  The remaining items at issue are:

  • Toya's rings (her engagement ring, wedding band and anniversary band) given to her by Mickey.
  • A watch collection (six watches that Mickey wears purchased during the marriage with marital funds)
  • Three cars- A G-Wagon, a BMW and a Jeep (Toya drives the G-Wagon, Mickey drives the Jeep and they use the BMW as their family car
  • A professional Nikon camera and lense kit (the camera was given to Mickey by Toya for his birthday, but the lenses were purchases after that occasion)

Toya despirately wants to keep her rings.  But Mickey immaturely quips that if she doesn't want his love and they aren't married, she shouldn't get her "crowns."  Similarly, Mickey wants his watches, with no credit to Toya.  The cars are another source of disagreement as both want the G-Wagon.  Lastly, the camera seems to be the most emotionally charged item on the table.  The camera was meant to jump start Mickey's new photography career.  But, Toya discovered some not-so-classy pictures of other women on the digital film.  

When Vikki first meets with the couple, she hears their perspectives on what they want and how they believe things should be divided.  Then, she has each item appraised at current value so that she can make the most fair decision when dividing the assets.  Lastly, she delivers her recommendation.  

The mediation decision:

  • The engagement/wedding rings- Vikki makes the important point that each state has specific gifting laws.  This couple lives in Georgia and under law, a gift given in anticipation of the marriage or during the course of the marriage to the other party is not subject to division.  Unless the ring was enhanced during the marriage or was an heirloom, it stays with the recipient.  This is true in both Pennsylvania and New Jersey
  • The watch collection- while they were Mickey's to wear, these were purchased with marital funds.  They ultimately went to Mickey, but with a considered credit to Toya.  As they were appraised at about $50,000, she would be entitled to half.  But, since the G-Wagon was about $25,000 more than the other two cars combined, Vikki considered the credit to be a wash.  This idea is often used in my practice and is a smart way to streamline division.
  • The Cars- Vikki applied a typical principle that I use in my practice, too.  She considered who was driving each car during the course of the marriage and had regular use and control of the vehicle during that time.  As a result, she awarded Toya the G-Wagon as it was her primary car and Mickey the Jeep.  She also gave Mickey the BMW as the G-Wagon had more monetary value than the Jeep.  
  • The Camera- Because the camera was a gift from Toya to Mickey, he was awarded the camera.  Vikki commented and comiserated with Toya that while the photos she found may not have been the best use of the camera, but that under the law you cannot mandate how the gift is used.  The lenses, which were purchased after the original gift with marital funds, were given to Mickey with a credit to Toya for half their appraised value.

Overall, Vikki applied equitable distribution in a way that my office often does.  She looked at all assets on the table and made her decisions as to each based on the law but also on how each item related to each other.  This creates a global settlement and mitigates haggling over each item individually.


    One last area of family law that this episode brought up in a side storyline was that of a prenuptial agreement vs. a cohabitation agreement.  A prenuptial agreement is only applicable in the event the parties marry.  But, some long term couples aquire assets and want to protect themselves in the best way possible when they are not married.  A cohabitation agreement is that alternative protection.  Such an agreement defines the rights and responsibilities of each party while they are living together and protects unmarried couples not subject to or covered under domestic relations law.  The advice Vikki counseled her client to follow was something I often speak to clients about.  It is tough to have a converstation about breaking up and money when you are in love.  But, in order to protect yourself, it can be a necessary evil.  

    That wraps up the first episode! Stay tuned!

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