“Soft split” has now stretched deep into its second year with no papers actually being served or assets divided. And it may be one of the smartest moves Affleck’s advisors have ever made.
Depending on the rumor you believe, Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner are either getting back together or still on the road to a permanent separation.
The answer makes a big difference to their love lives, but in terms of dollars and cents, the status quo doesn’t change either way.
Maybe they’ll remain married in name only. And that’s the key to what appears to be a novel asset protection strategy: don’t rock the boat and keep the money right where it is.
No fault, no filings
Affleck and Garner can evidently still stand each other, or else they’re good enough actors to fool themselves.
While he moved next door for a few months he’s back in the big house now, officially to stay close to the kids.
Any upset would upset the arrangement. But barring any big fights or a desire to make a permanent bond with anyone else, the relationship could remain in limbo indefinitely.
Inertia may be a big draw here. Her project pipeline has narrowed to a couple of independent films and cartoons. His career is now a hostage to the “Batman” machine and spinoffs.
Between them, they really don’t have a lot of emotional resources to spare for big life changes, and without a lot of big financial catalysts on the horizon, there isn’t a lot of incentive to rock the boat.
If anything, a formal divorce would probably force them to liquidate their biggest assets. Start with the house, which they bought together, so they either need to split it down the middle or compensate him for letting her keep it.
While the house went on the market a few months after the marriage fell apart, the $45 million ask went unanswered in a neighborhood where comparable properties might be worth $15 million at best.
The problem is that on paper the house might account for half the couple’s estimated $100 million net worth. The longer they can hang on, the more likely they’ll be to get an acceptable offer or replenish their cash reserves with a blockbuster movie or two.
Any reasonable divorce settlement would force a more immediate sale and possibly cost the couple as much as $15 million apiece in the final accounting -- not to mention force the kids to move.
They’d also need to separate their personal support systems at a time when neither seems overly eager to staff up. Two drivers, two cleaning services, two cooks and two accountants gets annoying as well as incrementally expensive in terms of splitting his-and-hers payroll.
God only knows what the nanny situation is like now as it is.
Weighing convenience against the future
Of course the longer they stay married, the more expensive a formal split will ultimately become.
Most of the gossip indicates there wasn’t a prenuptial agreement at all, so at best separate assets remain separate.
When they tied the knot in 2005, their careers were on relatively equal footing. She was a TV darling coming off a string of hit romantic comedies. He was drifting through the dry post-Gigli wilderness.
But after the wedding, she faded into the background while he stayed in the public eye, pulling in Oscars and routinely making lists of Hollywood’s highest-paid stars.
Most of their household assets technically derive from his post-2005 career. As such, in the absence of a binding prenup, they’re vulnerable to a 50-50 California split.
His bankability is only going to keep climbing for the next few years at least. One way or another, being Batman is going to take over his life and even if the comic book fans revolt, he’ll probably bank at least $45 million a year.
Garner, on the other hand, doesn’t seem to be working that level of ambition. Half of what she makes is technically his, but her half of his earnings amounts to a whole lot more.
The cold accounting here actually argues that he should lobby to finalize the split as soon as liquidity allows -- maybe when the house sells, but definitely before the Batman lottery stops paying out.
If cash is a motivator for her, she’ll want to hang on as long as she can to maximize the pool of assets to divide. After all, it would sting to call it quits too soon to get a piece of the next $40 million Batman payout or even more.
Of course these are all just numbers. However, the numbers are what they depend on their advisors -- lawyers, managers, investment managers -- to track for them.
Putting a price tag on any emotional choice helps to take that choice out of the realm of pure feeling and into reality. It’s where compromises are made between instant gratification and a shot at better outcomes down the road.
Less rarefied wealthy people use similar calculations all the time to support hard decisions like whether to stay in a highly compensated job they hate, when to retire, how much to spend on art or yachts. The heart wants what it wants, but the dollar signs make it easier to prioritize.
And when the dollar signs fail to drown out what the heart keeps saying, it’s time to admit that it’s time for that client’s life to change.
Right now it’s clear that Affleck and Garner aren’t so unhappy that it blinds them to the economics of splitting up. Maybe they’re actually happy in their separate bedrooms. Maybe they’ll get back together.
Over the next few years, the cash will argue more strongly for her to hang on and for him to call it quits. Then, maybe, the pendulum will swing back around and the incentives will flip.
And if they’re still living apart together three years from now, they may end up staying that way for life. They’d never have to sell the house then. They could see other people on the side.
No child support or alimony would ever be necessary. The kids would inherit from an undivided marital estate. It would look like a long and happy marriage -- at least from a legal perspective.