Sunday, February 12, 2017

Don't Do It His Way

When Frank Sinatra, Jr. died last March, he was embroiled in divorce litigation with his ex-wife, Cynthia.  When they divorced in 2001, he was ordered to pay her $5,000 per month for a year.  Sinatra continued to voluntarily make those payments for an additional 10 years until he was financially unable to do so.  Rather than show gratitude, his ex-wife filed for a second divorce claiming that they were in a common law marriage in Texas because he continued to refer to her as his wife both on stage and privately.  

Sinatra actually lived in California, paid California income taxes while he could have avoided taxes if he were a Texas resident (Texas does not have an income tax), and filed federal gift tax returns for the payment to his ex (transfers to spouses are not subject to gift taxes).  Nonetheless, a Texas court ruled that they were married and awarded her $500,000, half of his $4.5 million house, and $5,000/month for another year.  Sinatra died during the appeal which was ultimately decided posthumously in his favor. 

So many possible points, but let’s stay with a few.

1.   Only 15 states recognize common law marriages.  Ohio is not one of them.

2.  To have a common law marriage, couples must agree that they are married, tell others that they are married, and live together in the state which recognizes common law marriages.

3.  If Sinatra was filing income tax returns as a California resident and filing federal gift tax returns for the payments to Cynthia, he did not consider her his wife.

4.  Being a gentleman got Sinatra nowhere - he was trying to be considerate of Cynthia by not referring to her as his “former wife.”  If he had to do it again, I suspect he would introduce her as “my EX-wife, hear that?  My EX-wife.”

                                          Photo:  Michael Ochs Archives
                                                                     License:  Fair Use/Education