10. Frank Sinatra Jr.: Planning for Divorce Is Tricky But Necessary
Frank Sinatra Jr., the son of the famous singer, passed away in March 2016. At the time of his death, his ex-wife Cynthia had filed for divorce and the two were locked in litigation.
The couple originally divorced in 2001, but continued to live together. They even purchased a home together after their separation. Sinatra Jr. also had been ordered to pay Cynthia $5,000 a month in spousal support in the divorce decree. While this decree only required the support to continue for 24 months, Sinatra Jr. paid for almost 10 years. Cynthia also claimed that Sinatra Jr. called her his wife at social events.
All this apparently led Cynthia to believe the two were in a common law marriage. In 2013, when Sinatra Jr.’s monetary support for Cynthia ceased when he apparently ran low on money, she filed for divorce again. Sinatra Jr. claimed that the two, while close, were not in a common law marriage. Despite his protest, a Texas district judge awarded Cynthia the second divorce. This judgment included a $500,000 equalization payment, a share of his property, and another $5,000 per month in spousal support. Sinatra Jr. appealed the judgment, an appeal that was pending at the time of his death. However, the appellate court reversed the trial court. In its decision, the appellate court was persuaded by the facts that the couple filed separate tax returns, listed themselves as single tenants in common for the house they purchased and that Sinatra Jr. labeled Cynthia as his ex-spouse in tax returns. The court also noted that a common law marriage requires a specific and mutual agreement under Texas law.
According to estate planning attorney Will Sleeth, Sinatra Jr. could have avoided this mess in large part by having been more careful with his decisions and actions (chiefly by consulting with and listening to his attorney). Many states don’t recognize common law marriage, but in those states that do, people need to be extremely careful that their actions don’t give their lover a basis to claim that the parties had a common law marriage.