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An Odd Development in Divorce

Achraf Hakimi is an unknown name to most Americans. However, in Europe and most of the world, he is famous as the starting right back for Paris Saint-Germain, one of the most famous soccer teams in the world, and he represented his home country, Morocco, in the latest World Cup. Needless to say, Mr. Hakimi is quite successful on the football pitch (soccer field) and has been rewarded handsomely for his talent. His contract at Paris-Saint Germain is rumored to be in the range of a million dollars a month. He’s had some legal issues recently; specifically he is under investigation by French authorities for an alleged rape. And even more recently, likely due to the underlying allegations, his wife has filed for divorce. 

Hakimi made more recent headlines because his divorce uncovered quite an interesting asset protection tool—his mother. It seems that Hakimi has titled everything, including the majority of his paycheck, his homes, and other assets, to his mother. If he is ever in need of money, he apparently asks his mother for it. Now many online pundits and talking heads have lauded Hakimi regarding his financial savvy and his managing to avoid the division of marital property and other divorce-related issues. (Apropos of nothing, I also read that his wife is a famous actress in Spain.) I am not a French lawyer and do not know French matrimonial law. I have no idea if his arrangement would truly prevent a division of marital assets. But I do wonder if such a “loophole” would work in North Carolina. 

Our statute for property division, known as equitable distribution (ED), states that marital property is presumably property that was acquired during the marriage, or is fruit of marital labor, and is owned on the date of separation. Therefore, if you’ve gifted or otherwise disposed of property before separation, it is no longer marital property. So far so good. However, things become more dicey. Our courts have held that property owned by third parties can be distributed by the court, but only if the court finds that the parties are equitable owners of the property. That means that it becomes a fact-specific inquiry as to whether the property owned by the third party, a mother for instance, can be distributed in ED. It has happened before where title to bonds were held in trust for the wife in a divorce case when they were transferred to their son shortly before separation. Upchurch v. Upchurch, 128 N.C. App. 461, 463, 495 S.E.2d 738, 738 (1998). If an entire estate, piece by piece, was somehow gifted to a third party, it could turn into quite a mess to determine equitable interests. This is an odd development at the very least.