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Don't be like Johnny Depp, get a prenup

Not having one can cost you

Actors Amber Heard (L) and Johnny Depp attend the 'Black Mass' premiere during the 2015 Toronto International Film Festival at The Elgin on September 14, 2015 in Toronto, Canada.
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Actors Amber Heard (L) and Johnny Depp attend the 'Black Mass' premiere during the 2015 Toronto International Film Festival at The Elgin on September 14, 2015 in Toronto, Canada.

Not having a prenuptial agreement can be a costly mistake — not just for Johnny Depp, but for you as well.

Depp, 52, and his wife of just 15 months, Amber Heard, 30, are heading for splitsville. Heard filed a divorce petition earlier this week, citing irreconcilable differences, and requested spousal support. Depp's response, according to The Associated Press, asked the judge to deny Heard's support request — and asked that Heard pay her own attorney's fees.

The couple reportedly did not have a prenuptial agreement, which could leave Captain Jack Sparrow's treasure rife for plundering.

"Depp would be a poster boy for a prenup," said Arlene Dubin, chair of the matrimonial and family law practice at Moses & Singer in New York. "If you were checking off the boxes [of who should consider one], he pretty much has them all."

Generally speaking, she said, prenups are an important consideration for:

  • older couples;
  • those who come into the marriage with assets (as he did with a reported $400 million);
  • people who have children from prior relationships (as he does);
  • people who expect future celebrity and significant income (as he could, despite dismal reviews of "Alice Through the Looking Glass").

Without one, the process of getting unhitched can lead to protracted and expensive legal battles, or result in a less-fair division of assets.

A multimillion-dollar net worth isn't required to benefit. Hammering out a prenuptial agreement — or for unmarried couples, a cohabitation agreement — can make sense for many regular folks, too, said Joslin Davis, president of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers. "It requires people to think ahead," she said.

Take the case of older couples and those who are remarrying. A prenup can protect your assets not just in divorce, but in death, said Davis, who is also a principal of Allman Spry Davis Leggett & Crumpler, P.A., in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

Many jurisdictions prevent spouses from being disinherited, she said, so a court could easily void provisions in a will that leaves everything to your kids from a prior marriage. But a prenup could be worded to require your new spouse to waive their right to dissent or take an elective share in your estate.

For young couples, a prenup offers the chance to hash out divorce handling of issues like joint efforts to pay off one partner's student-loan debt, or how a partner might be compensated for leaving the workforce to care for their children.

"This way, the two people can write their own deal at the beginning of the relationship, at a time when they are in love and looking out for each other," said Dubin, who is also the author of "Prenups for Lovers: A Romantic Guide to Prenuptial Agreements."

Already married? Postnups are generally harder to come by. "Sometimes, one party may be advised that they are better off without one," said Davis. "The law already favors them."