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More than 30 years after John Belushi died of a drug overdose, his fate is still reverberating. On Friday, a Massachusetts appeals court weighed in on a divorce proceeding between Judith Belushi Pisano, his widow, and Victor Pisano, Judith’s second husband.
Judith and Victor entered into a prenuptial agreement when they got married in 1990 that provided that in the event of a divorce, each would get to protect their preexisting intellectual property rights from one another. So “what was Husband’s would remain Husband’s and what was Wife’s would remain Wife’s, and any new project that they created together they would share.”
Both were involved in the entertainment industry. He had produced and co-directed a television miniseries and sold a script to a studio, among other projects. She had her own work, but her biggest source of income derived from her late husband’s endeavors like Blues Brothers, Animal House and Saturday Night Live.
She filed for divorce in October 2010 and it went to trial where he contended that the prenup was the product of coercion and duress. The judge dismissed that argument, but the issue of alimony became a closer call.
A trial judge interpreted the prenup as not precluding him from making a claim for alimony, but also that he was limited in alimony payments to whatever property was acquired during the marriage.
On appeal, he challenged this assessment by contending he hadn’t waived his right to alimony from his wife’s separate property, meaning primarily Blues Brothers income and money from John Belushi’s likeness rights (think Animal House t-shirts).
The appeals court thinks the trial judge got it right.
According to the opinion, “While the premarital agreement … does not contain a waiver of alimony per se, against the backdrop of the parties’ intent to protect their separate property (including income streams) … we think the judge reasonably and properly construed the agreement to limit the husband’s claim for alimony…”
Judith didn’t get everything she wanted.
Among other things, in the years leading up the divorce, she was under financial strain and got a $100,000 loan from her late husband’s brother (presumably, James Belushi). She wanted Victor to share this debt and argued that it was a marital liability.
But the record of evidence established that she had borrowed the money in June 2010 after the separation occurred and without his consent. A judge agreed that the loan should be treated as her debt, and not their debt, and the appeals court finds no error in such a determination.