The lawyer for Britney Spears, Jane Lynch and other A-listers guides readers through divorce with “It Doesn’t Have to be That Way”
Divorce may not be as much fun as the honeymoon, but attorney Laura A. Wasser argues that it doesn’t have to end up like the “War of the Roses” with feuding spouses destroying the things they once loved — and each other — in an endless cycle of resentment and recrimination.
In her new book “It Doesn’t Have to be That Way” (St. Martin’s Press), Wasser, who has represented the likes of Maria Shriver, Kim Kardashian, Shaquille O’Neal and Mel Gibson’s ex-wife Robyn Moore in their glitzy divorces, argues that it’s becoming less messy to break the marriage bonds than ever before. By outlining and communicating goals, picking the right lawyer and always taking the high road, couples can dissolve their marriages with a minimum of fuss and financial hardship.
Wasser took time out from representing Hollywood’s power brokers and players to dish on what makes the perfect divorce, how celebrity breakups are different and what Kris and Bruce Jenner need to do to keep their family and their media empire together now that they’ve split up.
Kris and Bruce Jenner announced that they’re separated after 22 years of marriage last week. What kind of advice would you give them if they decide to get divorced?
It would be the same advice I’d give anyone in their situation — try to end your marriage as compassionately and considerately as you can. They should try to keep things as quiet as possible, which of course is hard to do when you live your life in the world of reality TV.
The way they made their announcement shows that they intend to do it gracefully. It was good that they made a point of stressing all the time they had been together and that they were most concerned about their children. It showed they want to do this in a mature way and I fully expect them to.
Is it harder to break-up when your whole life is the subject of a reality show?
I’m always amazed people would choose to live their lives on film, so I would imagine it’s very difficult for anybody to do in those circumstances. For me, I don’t participate in the filming when I represent a reality show star in a case, because that would mean waiving my right to attorney-client privilege and that would hamper my ability to mount an effective case.
How is your job different when you’re representing a big name celebrity than it is when you’re advocating for a private citizen?
The only thing that’s different between high profile or celebrity divorces is that you have to do all you can to keep your client and the details out of the media.
Does timing become more important if you’re representing a movie star who has a lot of professional projects they’re dealing with or a media executive who may be about to get that promotion?
In those cases it’s very important that something becomes public at the right time. Often people will wait if they have a new movie that’s about to come out or for whatever reason they don’t want the media distraction. It doesn’t matter to me what the timing is, and I’m always happy to work with a manager, a publicist or a business manager to find the best time.
What I won’t do is work entirely with a person’s assistant. I’ve had people have their office managers call me up and say, “so-and-so is really busy, so just have the papers ready for him to sign.” That doesn’t work for me. I need to be the one who sits down with a client to figure out what they think or need, no matter how busy they are or how famous their face is, otherwise I won’t take the case.
Do you have problems where clients, particularly clients with celebrity spouses, go jurisdiction shopping to find a court in a part of the country with laws that favor their position?
Yes, but that happens most frequently in sports cases where an athlete is playing in one city or state, but living with their wife and child in another. Sometimes a spouse will relocate to a state like California where there’s a good chance she’ll receive some of the highest child support in the United States. If they do that even though my client is a basketball player in Texas, it immediately raises a red flag.
Has the Supreme Court’s recent decision to strike down the Defense of Marriage Act change the way you deal with same-sex break-ups?
In some ways. We’re still waiting on some clarity on how the federal decisions will impact what happens in California, but the fundamentals remain the same regardless of a client’s sexuality. You’re always dealing with people who live together and who once shared assets and children and trying to find the best way to help them through a difficult time.
Do you think that people deal with divorce better today than they did twenty years ago?
Definitely. As a society we’ve evolved and we’ve recognized that the American family structure has undergone enormous changes. Divorce is all around us and who among us doesn’t know someone who is divorced or has been impacted by divorce.
It’s not as scandalous as it was. It’s not as much of an “oh my God” thing. I’m not a divorce monger by any means, but if you’re not happy in a relationship and you’ve grown apart, it’s not healthy for a couple to stay together. It’s better for kids to see two happy parents than two miserable parents.