The headlines are hard to ignore. Whether they're trumpeting a celebrity separation-"The $400M Divorce: What Pushed Brad Over The Edge"-or dishing on the details of a society split-"Soros in Divorce Battle Over $7.7 Million Painting"-there's a car-crash quality to big-ticket divorces that makes it hard to look away, no matter how down and dirty they get. And that's the entire point. There's a strategy to the lurid leaks and dark-arts publicity that goes into waging the war of public opinion and creating a new narrative about the people-and personas-involved.
When Angelina Jolie filed for divorce from Brad Pitt, she enlisted the services of superstar lawyer Laura Wasser, an uber-connected, gossip-column regular TMZ has called "Hollywood's Sexiest Lawyer." It's also been reported that the star is relying on the help of British political operatives Lady Arminka Helic and Chloe Dalton to run a campaign against her soon-to-be-ex husband. "What she is trying to do is frame the narrative. When there is a vacuum of information, there is a lot of speculation," lawyer Gloria Allred recently told the New York Times.
There's a strategy to the lurid leaks and dark-arts publicity that goes into waging the war of public opinion.
Indeed, the gears of the Hollywood media machine could also be heard grinding earlier this year during the very visible breakup of Amber Heard and Johnny Depp, which was accelerated by a never-ending stream of inside information that seemed to flow from the two opposing camps directly into the tabloid press. Sure, the tactic can grab the world's attention, but ask top divorce lawyers, and they'll say declaring battle against an estranged spouse in the public eye can have disastrous effects when it comes to legal proceedings.
"I've handled many celebrity divorces, and a lot of the publicity is created by the celebrities or their teams," says Barry Slotnick, a prominent New York lawyer whose clients have included Steve Wynn and Anthony Quinn. "If you're the person disseminating the information about lack of matrimonial bliss, you may find a judge who's not very pleased by your release of information. Judges get annoyed with people who try to make entertainment out of their situation."
Raoul Felder, a high-profile divorce attorney The New Yorker once called "The Misery Broker," agrees. "It all has a real-life effect," he says of the various rumors that can be spread during a high-profile split. "Celebrities are used to playing for a bigger audience, but I tell my clients that when we go to court, the only person who matters in the judge."
Celebrities are used to playing for a bigger audience, but I tell my clients that when we go to court, the only person who matters in the judge.
In the case of Jolie versus Pitt, Felder-who has handled divorces for Rudolph Giuliani, Stephanie Seymour, and Carol Channing-says, "I think in this case, she's been heavy handed. She ought to have done what he has, which is take a high road. The road she's taken is not one without pitfalls. I don't think she thought it out."
Felder admits that both sides have first-class laywers, but because of the public mudslinging that's plagued the split from its beginning, he says, "I think it's going to be a disaster."
But maybe that was the plan all along.
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