John McTiernan and Donna Dubrow were a Hollywood married couple during
parts of the 1980s and 1990s. He directed blockbuster, high-revenue action
movies, such as
Predator, Die Hard, Die Hard with a Vengeance, The Hunt for Red October,
and The Last Action Hero. She was a production company executive. He earned a seven-figure income
for each of the films he directed, and she earned a low, six-figure yearly
income for producing films. They divorced in 1997. While dividing the
community assets between the parties, the trial court determined that
$1.5 million dollars of McTiernan's directorial business was goodwill;
that good will is community property; and Dubrow was entitled to her half
interest. McTiernan appealed.
In California, property acquired by either party during the marriage is
presumed to be community property. When a marriage ends, each party is
entitled to one-half of that community property. However, there can be
no community property interest in any right that cannot be transferred.
Good will is a part of a business's reputation brought about by the
efforts of the business. Since the business can be transferred, it is
community property; and since good will is a part of the business, good
will is considered community property.
McTiernan argued that his unique skills, talent, and expertise as a director
were not the good will of a business, but part of the qualities of a natural
person. And, since, a natural person could not be transferred, his directorial
qualities could not be community property.
The appellate court agreed with McTiernan, classifying him in a "professional
standing" career, similar to a doctor or a lawyer, whose skills,
reputation, and earning capacity could not be transferred or sold.
Although not relevant in the McTiernan case, often a spouse's "professional
standing" career is paid for by community assets, such as his/her
educational costs or financial support while pursuing the education. If
so, the other spouse may be entitled to reimbursement for those assets
if the marriage ends.