Once again, it is that specter of a prenuptial agreement in a high-profile, high-asset divorce case.

Was one executed? If so, what did it protect? If not, what potential floodgates to wealth did it open for one of the spouses?

Increasingly, and growing by the day, headlines concerning recent revelations about the marriage of professional basketball star Kobe Bryant and his wife Vanessa are leading off with a reference to prenups and stating that Bryant could have saved a fortune by executing one.

The applicable words in the prior sentence are "could have saved," since, according to multiple sources, the couple did not negotiate and sign a premarital agreement.

Woe to Bryant for that omission, to the extent that he values every dollar of his wealth.

By all accounts, that wealth is flatly considerable. Forbes magazine estimates that Bryant earned about $53 million last year. He is the highest paid basketball player on earth, and just signed a contract extension worth $83.5 million.

Vanessa -- who filed divorce papers last week, citing "irreconcilable differences" as the reason for the marriage dissolution -- stands to get at least half of that, absent the prenuptial contract third parties say she never signed.

Moreover, the Bryant's marriage lasted more than 10 years, designating it as "lengthy" under California law, meaning that Vanessa Bryant is legally entitled to maintain her present standard of living following divorce.

That could equate to permanent spousal support. In the words of one person closely familiar with the case, Vanessa Bryant will receive "more than enough for many lifetimes."

Source: Los Angeles Times, "Kobe Bryant divorce: Prenup could have 'saved half of his fortune'" Dec. 20, 2011