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Value and limitations of prenuptial agreements

Arizona is a community property state. What that means is that property acquired during a marriage is considered by law to be jointly owned and therefore generally subject to equal division in the event of divorce.

There may be some exceptions to the community property rules. Property converted by one party to pay for gambling or a drug habit might result in an uneven split in favor of the other party. Efforts by one party to hide community property could tip the scales too. Prenuptial agreements may also set limits on how what might normally be community property is divided in the event of a divorce.

Having that level of control over how things will play out through a divorce can go a long way toward alleviating what can oftentimes be an emotional situation. One thing that a premarital agreement cannot do, however, is predetermine child custody and child support matters.

While parents can draw up an agreement on how they want to deal with parenting questions, the court's will always look to make a final determination on the basis of what it deems the best interest of the children.

That appears to be the approach that actor Martin Lawrence and his estranged wife Shamicka are taking as they begin divorce proceedings. The 47-year-old "Big Momma's House" star filed for divorce on April 25 after two years of marriage. The couple had been together 15 years prior to tying the knot. They have two daughters, 9 and 11.

They reportedly also have a prenuptial agreement. As we stated earlier, the terms of that pact won't come into play where the girls are concerned. But perhaps that won't matter much. The official filings of the divorce indicate that Lawrence is seeking joint legal and physical custody of the children.

If the courts agree, the children will split their time evenly between Lawrence and his ex. And the adults will also make decisions together about their children's welfare and upbringing. 

Source: Reuters, "Martin Lawrence Seeks Divorce, Joint Custody of Kids," Andrew Chow, May 1, 2012

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