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Experts say Bryant's wife stands to make windfall in divorce

Kobe and Vanessa Bryant are taking great pains to keep the details of their split under wraps by negotiating the terms privately. She filed the petition against the Lakers star Friday, citing 'irreconcilable differences.'

December 20, 2011|By Rick Rojas and Richard Winton, Los Angeles Times
  • Los Angeles Lakers' Kobe Bryant and his wife Vanessa attend the 11th annual ESPY Awards.
Los Angeles Lakers' Kobe Bryant and his wife Vanessa attend the 11th… (Kevin Mazur / AP Photo )

Lakers star Kobe Bryant and his wife, Vanessa, are taking great pains to keep the details of their pending divorce under wraps by negotiating the terms privately.

But legal experts said it's clear Bryant's wife will leave the marriage with a windfall.

Vanessa Bryant filed the divorce petition Friday, citing "irreconcilable differences." The couple then issued a joint statement saying they had "resolved all the issues incident to their divorce privately."

Celebrity couples like the Bryants turn to mediators — often a retired judge — or sit down with their lawyers to hammer out points of contention such as finances, community property and custody of children, allowing them to evade a public spectacle. (According to the divorce documents, the couple have agreed to joint custody of their two daughters, ages 5 and 6.)

"What's ironic about it," said Christopher C. Melcher, a Woodland Hills-based family law attorney, "is celebrities have found a way to keep their private lives private while the rest of us have to air all our dirty laundry."

Some estimates put Bryant's net worth at $150 million. Legal experts said Vanessa will probably receive at least $75 million in addition to ongoing spousal and child support.

Last season, as the NBA's highest-paid player, Kobe Bryant earned $24.8 million in salary, and his contract extension signed last year is worth $83.5 million. Forbes estimates that with endorsement deals, Bryant last year earned $53 million before taxes and agent fees. In recent years he has added Turkish Airlines and Mercedes-Benz to his portfolio

The fact the marriage lasted 10 years gives Vanessa several advantages under California divorce law. After passing the 10-year mark, attorney Dmitry Gorin said, a marriage is defined as a lengthy one, which means the spouse is allowed to maintain her standard of living after the split. Gorin said Vanessa Bryant may be entitled to permanent spousal support and may even be part of Kobe Bryant's retirement plans. She'll probably get "more than enough for many lifetimes," Gorin said.

Vanessa's mother told The Times several years ago that the couple did not sign a prenuptial agreement when they tied the knot in 2001. If true, that would entitle Vanessa to half of their community property.

But the ring? Not Kobe's five NBA championship rings, but one just as notable. The eight-carat purple diamond ring that he bought for Vanessa in 2003, days after he was accused of sexually assaulting a Colorado hotel employee, might be up for grabs. (The case was later dropped.)

"It may not be a true gift," Melcher said.

In California, something so expensive doesn't qualify as a gift unless there's a signed document noting that it was, in fact, a gift. So the ring could be considered community property.

Regardless of whether he keeps the ring, its $4-million value seems paltry in comparison with what she might receive in the settlement.

rick.rojas@latimes.com

richard.winton@latimes.com

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