Welcome to DivorceVille: Splitting up Silicon Valley Style

Big money, big ego, big bills. The Guardian writes this week about the increasing number of high-profile, high-stakes divorces in the San Francisco tech-sector. The billionaire founder of Farmville is just one a of a growing number of divorces involving young couples arguing over some eye-watering numbers.

This side of the pond we see the same trend: whilst historically many couples tended to start with almost nothing and build up their wealth during the course of their marriage, now we see a host of couples who go into their nuptials with significant personal wealth, which they unsurprisingly seek to protect by way of pre-nuptial agreements. Couples who don’t have such protection in place are increasingly presenting arguments to the court to ring-fence the assets acquired them pre-maritally.

Unlike Californian law which has a hard and fast rule that ring-fences pre-owned property, English law has no such thing. Lawyers and courts work from a list of factors to be considered in every case (know as the Section 25 factors), and from legal precedents, but each and every case rests on its own facts, and there can never be absolute certainly about how a court will divide assets. As a general rule, the needs of the parties (housing, living expenses) will always take priority, but to the extent that assets are divided in a way that meets these, a court will tend to allocate pre-marital assets, especially where a marriage has been short.

So, while a pre-nuptial agreement is not in fact legally binding in this country, ie a court cannot be forced to follow its provisions, it will be taken into account by a judge when deciding on the division of assets on divorce: a very worthwhile protection to put in place for today’s young entrepreneurs.

Divorce is always hard, but it can be particularly messy in a land of huge wealth, alpha personalities and hard-nosed lawyers who don’t come cheap

‘People get to Silicon Valley and make a ton of money and then they don’t want the wife or or husband they married before,’ Photograph:
The billionaire founder of Zynga, the San Francisco-based company that makes FarmVille, has found himself in (very messy) DivorceVille.

Mark Pincus, an early investor in Facebook and Twitter who is worth $1.28bn, separated from his wife, the co-founder of decor business One Kings Lane. The couple married in 2008, a year after Mark founded Zynga, which grew into a $1bn company within four years. There was a prenup, but in filing for divorce Alison has asked the court to nullify the agreement since Mark’s net worth soared during their marriage.