It's official: Emmy-nominated actress Laura Dern and Grammy-winner Ben Harper are back on the market. After five years of marriage and one failed attempt at reconciliation, the divorce of Dern and Harper is final.
The couple wed back in 2005, but their marriage quickly came to a halt in 2010 when Harper shocked Dern with divorce papers, citing irreconcilable differences and requesting that Dern be denied spousal support.
Unfortunately for Dern, this was not the first time she was blindsided by the end of a relationship. Dern was engaged to Billy Bob Thorton in 2000, when he surprised her with his Las Vegas marriage to Angelina Jolie while Dern was out-of-town filming a movie.
After their reportedly disastrous attempt at reconciliation in 2012, Dern responded to Harper's divorce papers, requesting primary physical custody and joint legal custody of both children of the marriage, Ellery, now 12-years-old, and Jaya, now 8-years-old. Dern also sought child support and payment of her attorney's fees.
The terms of Dern's and Harper's divorce settlement are confidential, according to TMZ. However, sources close to the couple claim that Dern and Harper will share joint custody of Ellery and Jaya, although Dern will spend more time with the children than Harper. This is consistent with reports that throughout their marriage, Dern acted as the primary caregiver for the couple's two children. Dern also played a significant role in raising Harper’s two other children from his marriage to Joanna Harper, whom he divorced in 2001. Dern will receive minimal child support, and neither will receive spousal support.
While spousal support releases are not uncommon in Separation Agreements, it is crucial that the parties make an informed decision on the topic after receiving independent legal advice (ILA). In Ontario, where the parties have both received ILA and counsel for both parties have signed the Certificate of Independent Legal Advice which is attached to the Separation Agreement, it is difficult for the parties to subsequently wiggle out of their agreement and seek support.
Where the parties have executed a pre-existing agreement and subsequently make an inconsistent claim for spousal support in the courts, the court embarks in a two stage analysis to determine whether the agreement should be set aside. At the first stage, the court considers the circumstances in which the agreement was negotiated in order to determine whether there are any reasons to discount it. The court will then examine the substance of the agreement to determine the extent to which the agreement factors in the objectives of support: namely, balancing the economic advantages and disadvantages of the marriage and its breakdown; accounting for the financial impact on the custodial spouse of raising the parties' children; compensating a spouse for any hardship resulting from the breakdown of the marriage; and promoting economic self-sufficiency within a reasonable amount of time.
At the second stage of analysis, the court considers the current circumstances of the parties; only where the current circumstances represent a significant departure from a range of outcomes that could have been anticipated by the parties in a manner that puts them at odds with the objectives of the Divorce Act, will a court consider varying the Agreement. At this stage, a court will also examine the parties' intentions at the time of the agreement and whether the agreement deviates from the objectives of the Act.
Because agreements are not easily set aside, prior to entering into an agreement, parties should independently speak with a lawyer about whether they are entitled to spousal support, and what amount, if any, they may be forsaking by signing a release. Only then should parties' consider a spousal support release.