Professional Musicians and Divorce: Topics to Keep in Mind

The prevalence of divorce knows no bounds when it comes to the professions of those involved: from politicians to pastors to pastry chefs and everything in between, the possibility of divorce is real. But for certain professions like music, the risks can be even higher. While the rewards and excitement of a life in music can be great, factors like late nights, long tours away from home, unpredictable income, and life in a world where the temptations of substance abuse and infidelity can be high can put a greater strain on matrimony than the typical 9 to 5.

And when a marriage involving at least one professional musician comes to an end, the issues that arise in a divorce proceeding can also be different than those in a typical divorce (if there is such a thing). In any divorce proceeding, it is important to find an attorney who understands the specific issues and challenges you are facing in your situation, and the same is true for those divorces involving professional musicians. Here are just a few of the issues professional musicians and their spouses often deal with in California divorces.

Royalties and Related Intellectual Property

In California, the income earned during the marriage is generally community property (meaning it is split 50/50 between the parties regardless of who earned it), as well as the assets acquired with that income. But this also extends to income earned as a result of efforts by either party during the marriage, even if that income only comes after the marriage is over.

For a musician, this could mean that if one spouse recorded and/or composed a song during the marriage, and that song continues to get played on the radio, sold to movies and commercials for licensing, or generate album sales long after the marriage is over, then the income that comes with all those events is attributable to community property, and the other spouse has an ongoing interest.

The same could be true of any number of revenue streams a musician might have related to intellectual property (e.g. compositions and recordings) created during the marriage: ticket sales, adaptations, recording royalties, merchandise, and so on.

Business Valuation of Artists, Bands, and Other Business Interests

If you or your spouse are in a working band or record, compose, and/or perform as a solo artist, you know that music is a business. And furthermore, that band or artist is itself a business – even if they didn’t quite think of themselves that way when they started or completed the formalities associated with a typical business (e.g. a partnership agreement clearly laying out roles, responsibilities, and who owns and earns what).

The members of splintered bands like Yes, Pink Floyd, and Guns ‘N’ Roses have famously resorted to legal action to determine who actually owns those bands/businesses, specifically which band members get to use the name (it’s a lot easier to sell a stadium-sized amount of tickets when “Guns ‘N’ Roses” is on the marquee rather than “Axl Rose and Eight Guys You’ve Never Heard Of”). The band itself has a business value, and the same is true in a divorce.

Again, if a band/artist has a business value, and at least a portion of that value is attributable to efforts made by one spouse during the marriage, then the other spouse has an interest in that value and a right to it in the divorce proceedings.

Challenging Custody Schedules

Custody is rarely a seamlessly smooth issue in divorce, but things get even trickier when the parents do not live nearby to one another, and/or when one spouse is frequently travelling for work. Kids need to go to school, be around their friends, and generally have continuity in their life. Thus, trying for a 50/50 custody schedule when one parent is living in Calabasas and the other is touring Japan for three months before heading to Germany for the next three is going to be unworkable.

This does not mean however that the touring parent – or even a musician parent who works locally but whose work schedule is more like 7 PM to 1 AM rather than 9 to 5 – is cut out of the picture. Instead, the parties should work creatively to create a custody arrangement that provides frequent and continuing contact with both parents to the extent feasible while still providing consistency for the children themselves.

Why Mediation is a Good Option for Divorces Involving a Musician

If the above sounds complex, it certainly is. And complexity in a divorce often leads to high expenses when parties choose to “fight out” their differences in court, which is generally a very long, stressful process that wastes resources that are better devoted to children, savings, and new gear.

A better option is to work with an experienced divorce mediator who can help the parties reach creative solutions on the above issues and more which benefit both parties and promote collaborative approaches to difficult divorce issues that can make both parties stronger going forward. All of which saves money and lets the parties focus their minds and creative efforts elsewhere – after all, no one wants to hear your double-album rock opera about your two-year divorce case, or at least not enough people to make up for the legal fees you spend in the process.

Guidance on Your California Mediation Questions From a Westlake Village Family Law Mediator

If you would like to learn more about how our office can provide guidance on mediation or any other California family law issues you are facing in Ventura County or Los Angeles County, contact the Zonder Family Law Group office today at (805) 777-7740 or (818) 877-0001, or schedule your strategy session using easy-to-use online form here.