Who Gets Custody?



Army green tank, WWII era with white star on the side. Actual tank, restin gout in the open as if on display.

Sherman Tank by chefranden CC 3.0 flickr.com/photos/chefranden/5063471734 (according to one of the articles, another one of the assets that needing splitting)

Way back in ancient times, the ’90s, my mom and I were discussing a then-current event: a writer and his wife were divorcing. As part of the deal, the wife wanted future royalties of the books her husband wrote while they were together.

At first, I baulked. He wrote them. Those were his blood, sweat and tears on those pages. My mom, however, pointed out that, yes he did the physical writing, but what about the support she provided…didn’t I ever bounce ideas off of someone? Didn’t someone cook and clean for me while I wrote (at this point in time, that would have been her)?

I look around me today and I see people I’ve bounced things off of, people who have helped generate ideas, people who revise and edit and critique, and, yes, someone who does the dishes and laundry…thanks honey! It takes quite a village to bring a creation to life. But would all of them get a cut of the royalties? I’m still not really keen on that, but I can see my mom’s point.

I couldn’t remember who this writer was, but Tom Clancy kept rattling around in my brain, so I looked him up. Sure enough, he and his wife had a decade long “custody” battle over the character Jack Ryan*. But, I’m sure it’s not surprising, the situation was a little more complicated than a simple divorce and a royalty check. A jointly owned corporation that owned the naming rights to video-games and the whole Ryan empire was what the original article quaintly called the books’ royalties. I think corporations go a smidgen beyond royalty check.

This is the extreme example of creation gone awry. Usually, I see people celebrate when they’ve helped create something — and they’re celebrating the person for the creation, not their addition to it. I suppose marriage and millions complicate matters some.

Have you thought about all the people who help you with your writing/creative pursuits?


Have you ever seen helping go awry? Does that make you more guarded with your creations or your critiques?

*I don’t actually know how that sorted out. I googled “Tom Clancy Divorce Ruling” and got a lot of articles from the midst of the process. None of the articles seems to have been written after the fact when the ruling came down. There was a ruling, in PDF, which I didn’t read because my eyes glazed over at the legalese.

6 thoughts on “Who Gets Custody?

  1. This is an interesting paradigm. His name can’t be used, but it can still be his name? Is he allowed to write a check or sign a receipt? Being facetious, of course. I did some digging and found this link: http://www.joystiq.com/2008/03/25/clancy-name-bought-by-ubisoft-worth-big-bucks/

    Assuming that 11 years later they were still arguing, as it seems they may have been, the court quite possibly decided to have the pair sell off the rights to the name and split the assets from the sale. It would have been much simpler to have just done this to begin with. Now neither of them have claim to the name and he can still write checks 🙂

  2. bethfinke

    Alas, deciding who might get the royalties and the vast amount of other fortunes I’ve received from my writing in a divorce settlement is not on my list of worries. A good thing (in regards to the divorce part) I suppose…!

  3. It’s interesting to come across a post on this topic. I went to a divorce seminar on this legal issue last week: equitable distribution of marital property when one of the spouses is an author (in PA). There was a lot of discussion about it, and other attorneys in the audience seemed surprised that a book published even after the split could be considered marital property if the idea was developed during the marriage.

    • What a coincidence!

      As if divorce weren’t messy enough…

      I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that there are seminars on this, but I guess I don’t think about it happening enough to warrant a full seminar!

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