Reese and Ryan. Denise and Charlie. Pamela and Kid Rock. Britney and K-Fed. Their names are familiar, and so are the stories of their divorces. Divorces of the rich and famous are always big news, but interest has increased in recent years, driven by coverage on the Internet, according to those who work in the celebrity arena. “I think there’s a wild public interest,” said Raoul Felder,
chairman of the New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct and a celebrity divorce attorney. “It has every element of attraction.”
Last year, actress Reese Witherspoon made headlines after she told “Elle,” magazine that she suffered panic attacks after her breakup with actor Ryan Phillipe, whom she had been married to for seven years. She pulled herself out of it, she told Elle, by thinking about how many Americans -- about half U.S. marriages end in divorce -- suffer the pain of splitting up. The story was posted on web sites around the world.
Several days later, Phillipe countered by saying he was so depressed by the breakup that he wanted to die. Again the story made the rounds on the Internet. Felder said celebrity divorce battles like these were a “wild cocktail for voyeurs.” “It’s a peek into celebrity lives,” Felder said. “It’s better than your neighbors getting divorced because you learn even more.”
Felder represented former New York City Mayor-turned-candidate-for President Rudolph Giuliani in his second divorce. He also represented actress Robin Givens in her divorce from boxer Mike Tyson, and he represented Larry Fortensky in his divorce from actress Elizabeth Taylor. He is also the author or coauthor of eight books, and he leads his own firm, Raoul Felder and Partners, PC, in New York City.
The plethora of public information about a celebrity divorce can make it difficult for Felder to do his job. For example, when the Givens-Tyson split was big news, Felder felt like the public sided with Tyson, because he was a sports hero that they could easily forgive for his transgressions. Felder said he sometimes got yelled at by people because he was representing Givens.
And when he was representing Giuliani, the media was camped in front of his home trying to get information. “It was very, very difficult to deal in an appropriate level,” Felder said. And for their celebrity clients, it’s difficult enough to go through the normal elements of a divorce: division of assets, what to do with the home, custody agreements. They also have to worry about their image. “Their whole livelihood, persona, is how they appear as a celebrity,” Felder said. And the information that arises during a divorce will have a direct effect on public perception, he said.
With Internet coverage and its immediacy, the public knows the moment the break-up happened, who moved out when and how long the separation has been in place, Felder said. “It’s a blow-by-blow. Like a prize fight,” Felder said. “You’re present at every round.”
CONNECTING WITH CELEBRITIES
Public fascination with all of the details that come out of celebrity divorces provides not only a voyeuristic thrill, but a way for fans to feel closer to their favorite celebrities, according to Stacy Phillips, a certified family law specialist who handles mostly celebrities and high-net-worth clients. Phillips has handled celebrity clients such as singer Bobby Brown, the former husband of singer Whitney Houston; Corina Villaraigosa, the estranged wife of Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa; Darcy LaPier, the ex-wife of actor Jean-Claude Van Damme; Erin Everly, former wife of Axl Rose of Guns 'n Roses; and Charlie Shahnaian, actress Tori Spelling’s ex-husband.
“Some like to feel sorry for their favorite celebrities, others are reassured that those who are adored and celebrated have problems just like them, and still others enjoy watching an icon fall,” said Phillips, who is also the author of “Divorce: It's All About Control - How to Win the Emotional, Psychological and Legal Wars,” and a managing partner of Phillips, Lerner, Lauzon & Jamra,
LLP in Century City, Calif.
Phillips said she doesn’t think celebrity divorces are on the rise, though it may be perceived that way. Instead, she said, celebrity divorce is on a trend much like everyone else. ”Celebrity divorce goes along with the same statistics as the general populace divorce rate, but our perception is that more celebrities get divorced,” Phillips said. “That is because we seethe divorce played out in public.”
Watching the divorces play out can be a benefit to those in the general populace who are facing divorce themselves. Watching how celebrities handle themselves can be a lesson in itself. “Since they have emotions just like everyone else going through a divorce, it is sometimes difficult to keep their emotions in check. They also have to go to great lengths to keep certain information, such as custody issues and money matters out of the public eye,” Phillips said.
She said that celebrities have to conduct themselves with the knowledge that there are members of the media on the hunt for as many details as possible about their private lives, and sensitive details sometimes emerge from court documents. “This is highly embarrassing to many celebrities, who like regular folk, just wish to keep their private affairs private,” Phillips said. “Although, as we know, it appears as if some celebrities lovethe publicity even if it is bad and embarrassing.”
Regular folk watching celebrity divorces play out can pretend they are in the same situation – and it might improve the divorce process. Phillips said she wishes more people would behave as reporters and producers were watching their every move. “If that were so, people might behave a little more rationally and appropriately, especially in front of their ex and the children,” Phillips said. “Also, study what it is that breaks up these marriages -- money, infidelity, control issues --and try not to get caught up in some of the same traps.”