…and a Potentially Complicated Separation and Divorce

Once again, divorce and child custody prove to be the great equalizer between the general population and celebrities. Belcalis Marlenis Almanzar and Kiari Kendrell Cephus were married in September 2017. They welcomed a baby girl, Kulture, in July 2018. Almanzar and Cephus broke up and reconciled a few times thereafter with Almanzar filing for divorce on September 15, 2020.

This may sound like the typical separation and divorce story, with a side of custody, except: Almanzar (aka Cardi B) is arguably one of the best female rappers of our time and affectionately known as “Hip Hop’s Reigning Queen”; and Cephus (aka Offset) is one third of the award winning rap trio, Migos, alongside Quavo and Takeoff. That makes baby girl Kulture the daughter of rap royalty, and adds a layer of complexity and publicity to the separation and divorce.

Clients, celebrity or not, need to understand the relief they are seeking in the verified pleadings with the Court and any strategy related to that release. For example, after the initial divorce filing, Cardi B’s legal team filed amended pleadings on September 16, 2020 modifying her requests for sole custody to indicate her desire for joint custody; removing her claim for child support; and advising the court of the intent for the parties to reach an amicable agreement. Cardi B also released a statement noting she did not know her lawyer included those original contentious claims. While it may be tempting to default to the most relief one could seek, it is a strategy that sometimes backfires. If the true intent is to co-parent and there really is no need for economic relief, then it can be a better strategy to simply state that in the court pleadings. The resistance to doing so is often rooted in the fear of foregoing some amount of negotiating leverage. However, that can be a more contentious route, and given Cardi B’s amended pleading, we can assume it was not the way she wanted to proceed with someone she will need to co-parent with forever.

Other points of interest related to the parties’ separation and divorce:

  • Custody:
    Both Offset and Cardi B have had some legal issues in the past. Cardi B was indicted in 2019 on 14 charges including 2 counts of felony assault. Dating back to at least 2013, Offset has convictions for burglary and assault, and has been previously charged with drug and firearm possession and gang related activity. While one parent may complain of such misconduct by the other parent as it relates to the ability to parent a child, if both parents have criminal records it is less likely that it would have an impact in a Court’s decision about parenting time.
  • Spousal Support:
    It is unclear if the parties had a pre-nuptial agreement. Various outlets report they had a casual ceremony and did not have a pre-nuptial agreement. Rights to spousal support vary by State, but given the parties were married for less than two years prior to the filing it is not likely that spousal support would be long term if awarded at all. There is typically a consideration of the respective income of the parties and their reasonable needs and expenses to support themselves. Given the success of both parties, it would be difficult for either to argue they need support from the other as both can likely take care of their own needs and expenses.
  • Child Support:
    Although Cardi B’s original pleading with the Court sought child support from Offset, her amended pleading withdrew that request. In some cases, parties can agree to a division of child expenses rather than direct cash support paid from one to the other. Given the incomes of the parties, it is very likely that in most jurisdictions where child support guidelines would apply that they would exceed those guidelines. In such cases, the true expenses of the child are considered, much like the analysis for determining if spousal support is appropriate. Seeking support or any other type of financial relief also provides for discovery related to the financial positions of the parties. In some jurisdictions, that information is not able to be blocked from public scrutiny so, ideally, celebrities or others with an interest in keeping their financial affairs private are best served with not bringing those matters before the Court for a decision and keeping their agreements out of the public forum.
  • Property Distribution:
    Likely one of the most complex issues in the separation and divorce of Cardi B and Offset will be property distribution. Depending on the laws of the State where they reside, there will be a consideration of the property accumulated from the time the parties were married up until their separation and/or the divorce filing. While tangible items such as homes, cars and other items can be fairly easily valued for distribution, there may have been separate property of either Offset or Cardi B that was used for the purchase of those items that could be considered in the distribution. The “deals” made by either party during the divorce such as recording contracts, endorsement arrangements, television appearances and the like are intellectual property that could have residual value well beyond the separation and divorce of the parties.

Cardi B released Invasion of Privacy in 2018 after the parties were married and her upcoming album Tiger Wood is yet to be released. She’s also had numerous collaborations with other artists, television appearances, two films and various commercial endorsements during the marriage. Likewise, Offset released Father of 4, made television appearances, has investments in Esports, and multiple collaborations with other artists during the marriage. Those intangible assets, including the musical compositions, performances, and licenses therein are categories of intellectual property that may need to be valued to reach an equitable distribution of the parties’ property unless the parties agree that they will each keep what they have.

Separated or Not? In some jurisdictions the parties continued cohabitation has some bearing on whether or not they can file claims incident to separation and divorce; and whether or not they can make agreements related to those claims. Some outlets report that Offset and Cardi B still reside together and intend to have an amicable uncoupling. It is important they discuss the continued cohabitation with counsel and ensure they are handling appropriately to validate any legal claims and/or agreements they might make from here.

At the end of the day, divorce and separation can be difficult no matter who you are. Hiring an experienced family law attorney is a crucial first step in navigating what lies ahead.

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