Divorce in Song: Blu Cantrell’s “Hit Em Up Style”

Originally published on berkbot.com

We all know the 2001 song “Hit Em Up Style” by Blu Cantrell, yes? Not only was it a massive hit back then, it still pops up at least somewhat frequently in clubs and on the radio. It is, inarguably and without question, a great song. It is also a song with some very bad legal advice.

Here’s the oddly clinical Wikipedia summary of the song’s message: “The lyrics propose that women should take revenge on cheating men by draining them of their available assets, both monetary assets and property.” Hence, “hitting [them] up style” means spending a cheating spouse’s assets, and even selling their property, as a form of vengeance for adultery. I thought it would be fun to take a closer look at the song’s lyrics from the perspective of, what else, a divorce lawyer, because really, this is a song about the end of a relationship and how to approach it, so who better than a divorce lawyer to take it far too literally and analyze it way too much? Also, apologies to Blu, who seems like a lovely person and no doubt did not intend for her big single to be the subject of a legal treatise.

“While he was schemin’/I was beamin’ in the Beamer just beamin’/Can’t believe that I caught my man cheatin’…”

First of all, as horrible as cheating on a spouse is, it is only in very rare circumstances of relevance in a divorce. In particular, adultery is generally not a reason for courts to alter property distribution or alimony awards from what they would be in a non-adultery case. It can affect custody issues, sometimes, but this song is not called “Get Legal Custody Style.”

“So I went/to Neiman-Marcus on a shopping spree/And on the way I grabbed Soley and Mia/And as the cash box rang I thought everything away…”

What Blu is advocating in this song is a legal concept known as “dissipation.” This is actually a fairly common issue in divorce, particularly with high net worth spouses, as Blu and her unnamed partner appear to be. Dissipation is the wasting of marital assets by one spouse, such as by going on a shopping spree (and even spending marital funds on Soley and Mia…). Dissipation can occur many ways, not just by shopping, such as by gambling marital funds away or spending them on drugs. Somewhat ironically, a common means of dissipation is for a cheating spouse to spend marital funds on his paramour.

Blu is actually doing more harm than good here, as emotionally satisfying as it must be for her. If she dissipates marital property, it will eventually be held against her in the divorce, such as by reducing her equitable distribution award or the alimony she would be awarded (or, if she is the monied spouse, increasing the money she has to pay).

“While he was braggin’/I was comin’ down the hill and just draggin’/All his pictures and his clothes in the bag and/Sold everything else till there was just nothing left/And I paid/All the bills about a month too late…”

How I would love to be the lawyer representing Blu’s husband. “Your Honor, not only did Ms. Cantrell spend significant marital funds on Soley and Mia, she went so far as to sell my client’s separate, pre-marital property and keep the funds for herself. Your Honor, that is theft.”

It also doesn’t help Blu to pay all of the bills late, particularly if those bills are for carrying costs associated with the marital home. If Blu is deliberately late on paying the mortgage, for example, this is a strong argument in her husband’s favor that he should be awarded sole and exclusive occupancy of the marital residence, as the spouse more equipped to care for it properly.

So basically, the alternative reading of “Hit Em Up Style” is that rather than working as a satisfying revenge tale, it is in fact a guide to how not to behave when you are the victim of an adulterer. If I was rewriting this song, I would call it, “Hire A Divorce Lawyer Style.”

“Cuz a marriage is better than money you’ll see…”

On that, finally, Blu and I can agree.

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