Second Time's Not the Charm for American Beauty Star

US Weekly reported this week that Mena Suvari, the 33 year old actress who starred in such films as American Beauty and the American Pie franchise, has reached a divorce settlement with her second husband, Italian concert promoter, Simone Sestito. Suvari, who split from her first husband, cinematographer Robert Brinkmann in 2005, married Sestito on July 26, 2010 after 3 years of dating.

After just 18 months of marriage, Suvari filed for divorce on January 13, 2012 citing "irreconcilable differences." The divorce papers indicate that the couple separated on November 1, 2011. At the time of filing, Suvari asked that Sestito not receive spousal support. According to US Weekly, Sestito countered, asking for $17,151 per month in spousal support.

Now TMZ reports that the pair has "amicably resolved their financial differences outside mediation and court." A representative for the actress reported that neither party would be paying any support.

In Canada, the amount and duration of support is based on the Spousal Support Advisory Guidelines. Spousal support for married spouses is determined under s. 15 of the Divorce Act.

There are four financial objectives that a support order should strive to achieve:

  1. balancing the economic advantages and disadvantages of the marriage and its subsequent breakdown;
  2. adjusting for the financial impact on the custodial spouse of raising the parties' children;
  3. compensating for hardship resulting from the marriage breakdown; and
  4. promoting economic self-sufficiency "within a reasonable length of time."

A person seeking support must first establish that there exists a basis for entitlement. There are three conceptual bases for entitlement to support:

  1. Compensatory: based on career sacrifice and familial contribution.
  2. Contractual: a consensual agreement may create or negate an obligation to support.
  3. Non-compensatory: based on need/economic hardship, alone.

Once entitlement is established, the courts will turn to one of two formulas, depending on whether the support payor is also paying child support. In the case between Suvari and Sestito, the courts would apply the without-child support formula.

The amount of support will range between 1.5-2% of the difference between the spouses' gross incomes for each year of cohabitation, up to a maximum of 50%. The duration of support will range from 0.5-1 year for each year of cohabitation, and support will be indefinite if the marriage is 20 years or longer.

In the case of short-term marriages (less than 5 years) where both parties are capable of working, such as the one between Suvari and Sestito, self-sufficiency is generally achievable in a short period of time. Thus, where there is a short-term marriage and no child support obligation, the courts will be less likely to award support. If support is awarded, it is generally at the low-end of the quantum and duration ranges.

Yet, as we noted above, Suvari and Sestito settled outside of court and mediation. Assuming that the couple didn't simply come to an agreement between themselves, how might they have solved this issue?

While it is conceivable that the former spouses settled their dispute through old fashioned negotiation, it is also possible that Suvari and Sestito settled their dispute through an alternative dispute resolution process called "collaborative law."

In collaborative law, the divorcing spouses sign a participation agreement indicating that, in the event that negotiations breakdown, both parties will hire new lawyers for the purpose of going to court.

Taking court essentially "off the table" can have the effect of making the process of obtaining a settlement less adversarial. In collaborative law, the divorcing spouses work together to reach a settlement that fits both their needs.

One of the main advantages of collaborative law is that the parties are not tied to legal remedies, but are rather free to devise their own, custom-made solutions. It is easy to undermine the value of non-monetary remedies; often an apology or an acknowledgement of something that occurred in the marriage can go a long way to procuring a settlement.

Given the length of the marriage between Suvari and Sestito, and the fact that both continued to work during the marriage, it is not surprising that the former spouses agreed that neither party would pay support. Alternately, the spouses may have had a pre-nuptial agreement dictating the terms of their separation, making Sestito's claim for support moot.

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