If there's one thing tabloids want us to believe, it's that celebrities are just like us. They go to supermarkets, they stop for coffee, they walk their dogs and, to the delight of gossip blogs everywhere, they break up. It's that last point we can't help but admit makes celebrities wildly not like us. There are no gossip blogs following our relationships. Our breakups come with tearful brunches and late-night phone calls, and the only thing you have to consider is whether or not you're going to bump into your ex at a coffee shop. For celebrities though, you could says things are a little different. Especially if the breakup involves a divorce.
"When a celebrity files [for divorce] there's a lot of things you have to consider," says Jason Brodie, co-founder of the Florida-based law firm Brodie & Friedman. "Number one, is it going to impact their career? Is there going to be a PR fallout from it? Is it going to hurt their careers or hurt endorsements? What is gonna be the ramifications? Why are they getting divorced? Has there been domestic violence? Have the parties just grown apart? Is there a child custody issue? What is that we need to be prepared for? Who do we need to be reaching out to make sure that stuff stays quiet?"
That's decidedly more questions than just, "Do you think we can still be friends?"
When it comes to divorce, celebrities don't have the luxury of wallowing. They can't shut out the world for a few days or sleep in until 1pm. They immediately have to come up with a game plan. That's where lawyers like Jason Brodie and Josh Friedman of Brodie & Friedman, Laura Wasser of Wasser, Cooperman, & Mandles (and author of It Doesn't Have To Be That Way who was described as "America's most feared divorce lawyer" by The Mirror in 2004) and Raoul Felder of Raoul Felder & Partners come in. Among the four of them, they've represented names like Kim Kardashian, Angelina Jolie, Britney Spears, Ryan Reynolds, Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, Richard Harris, and Carol Channing. Big names, big divorces, all handled expertly thanks to the tried and true methods celebrity divorce lawyers use to get shit done while also keeping it quiet — because that's the biggest thing to consider when filing for divorce as a celebrity. That, and, well, everything else.
Here's how you do it.
Think twice before you file.
For a celebrity divorce, the thing on everyone's mind is press. More often than not, couples don't want to dominate the news, which means publicists and lawyers must handle the proceedings in ways that evade the press for as long as possible — something that gets more difficult every day thanks to social media. However, there are a few tricks that sometimes let the proceedings fly under the radar.
First off, don't file the divorce in L.A — don't even file it in California, if you can avoid it, Wasser says. If a client has any kind of residence another state, she'll push them to file it there, out of the way and quiet. Even then, Brodie recommends filing in the smallest county in the state, somewhere where nobody would expect.
"All these major counties throughout the country, you always have somebody looking at the files," Brodie explains. "If you go to a small, little county to get divorced, people won't be looking for it and won't know to look for it unless they're told to."
Wasser added that places like TMZ often have people hanging out at the Los Angeles Superior Courthouse, and maintain good relationships with the clerks so they'll be inclined to give the press a heads up if a particularly juicy filing goes through.
It's also just as much about when as it is where. Specifically, Wasser recommends a Friday before a long weekend or holiday, but big picture, Brodie recommends keeping an eye on the news cycle, and announcing the news when something more important will be taking up space on the front page.
There's also other things to consider, like custody. If children are in the picture, Wasser won't file until the summer, hopefully when the kids are at camp.
"They're not going to be at the market or the schoolyard hearing people talk about it," she explained. "If their kids are little and they're not reading yet or they're going to be on vacation out of the country so they're not getting mobbed by paparazzi, that's a good time to do it. Anything that makes it more comfortable for the family."
In general, Felder says this all gets handled in what he calls the "Hollywood two-step."
"First, you announce the people respect each other, love their children," he said. "They're going to have a wonderful life. Each of them wants wonderful things to happen to the other. So, that's the first thing. They wait three weeks, four weeks, a little later and say, 'They've agreed to go their separate ways.' Period. Get the fire out of it. Cool it down."
Break with convention.
Conscious uncoupling is the new black. According to Wasser, people don't want to see messy divorces anymore. They want a breakup to be relatable, and would rather see Mariah Carey and Nick Cannon going on family dates with their kids than going after each other in the tabloids.
"So, it's all based around getting along, being the master of your own destiny, not letting lawyers who are getting paid by the hour to churn conflict, but taking it upon yourself," she said. "I think it's amazing that these celebrities, for whatever reason, even if it's based on self-interest and keeping themselves out of the press, have really created an example for so many people to go 'You know what? I don't think that bad-mouthing my ex is best for my kids. I think we'd better do it quietly, amicably.'"
Stay in control of the story.
It's up to lawyers how closely they want to work with publicists, but often it's a dance between what the lawyer thinks is right and how the publicist wants to spin it.
"I'm very grateful for the publicist and I always tell my clients 'Hey, we're gonna file this on Monday, you might wanna let your publicist know,'" Wasser said. "Then, I'll get the hysterical phone call from the publicist and I'll say, 'All it's gonna say is: they're getting divorced, irreconcilable difference, here's the date of marriage, here's the date of separation, and here's their kids names.' That's it. Don't worry."
But it's the publicist's job to get ahead of the story, so they'll go ahead and issue a statement before the filing sets off alarm bells. According to Wasser, a joint statement is the most beneficial, and downplays any drama. As far as anyone's concerned it's just your run-of-the-mill divorce.
Think about your image.
And the best way to do this is to make sure you're keeping an eye on all of the documents. There are some specific questions you should consider: "What wording is the lawyer putting in the document that's going to be a public document?" Friedman says. "What is the lawyer saying about the spouse that the public maybe eventually see on social media or on news outlets?"
Specifically, what claims are being made that anyone can get their hands on?
"If you're the spouse that needs alimony, you gotta be very careful what you put in there because you could be biting the hand that feeds you," Brodie warns.
Felder has a more drastic approach.
"It's not a good time to hit somebody when they're high," he says. "You gotta hit 'em when they're low." Otherwise, you're gambling with how the public will react. They're more likely to be on your side if you've already won them over.
Don't expect special treatment.
Your divorce lawyer is not your therapist, and they're not your publicist — despite what celebrities may feel entitled to. In fact, Wasser says she may be the only person who says "no" to a celebrity and their team.
"I'm like 'No, we're not doing that,'" she says of ludicrous celebrity demands. "'Your kids are gonna see their dad. They absolutely are and I'm not going to pretend that they're not. They are.'"
Because celebrity or not, this is Wasser's job.
"I am in for 6 to 12 to 18 months, I get paid by the hour, then I'm out," she says. "I'm not with them anymore. I hope their careers go well. I wish them well, but it doesn't matter to me one way or another."
It's this attitude that's likely brought her so much success in this industry, as is the case with all of the lawyers I talked to — because lawyers are lawyers, and celebrities are clients, just like you and me and that person over there.
"Everyone thinks they're a part of their own real-life, real-time reality show," Wasser comments, and it's true. In the age of social media, especially, we're all stars. Maybe celebrities are just like us after all.