Celebrities do everything on a far grander scale than everyone else, and that includes their romances, weddings and break-ups. When it comes to divorce, courts are obliged to make judgments based on the facts, not on media stories and public opinion. This can come as a great shock to those who are used to public adulation and getting their own way.
Whatever the length of celebrity relationships, there are some important lessons you can learn from their divorces.
1. Always keep an eye on the assets.
During the course of the marriage, it is important to be involved in the family finances and know what assets and income exist. This knowledge will be vital when the time comes to divide the spoils.
Donald Sterling, former owner of the Los Angeles Clippers basketball team, and wife Shelly were married in 1955. The pair were already living separate lives in March 2014 when Shelly discovered the extent of Donald’s largesse to his mistress, V Stiviano, and filed a lawsuit against her to recover community property. In response, V Stiviano revealed secret tapes of Donald making racist remarks, which created a media circus and forced Donald to sell the Clippers, but did not distract Shelly from her ultimate goal.
In April 2015, a Los Angeles court ordered V Stiviano to return the assets including a $1.8 million house, $800,000 in cash, a Ferrari and other luxury vehicles. Donald finally filed for divorce in August 2015.
2. Physical custody will not automatically go to the mother.
The court will assess the behavior of both parties and consider the welfare of the children. Gossip Girl actress, Kelly Rutherford, divorced her German husband Daniel Giersch in 2010, just months before their second child was born. Daniel was later forced to leave the U.S. because of visa issues.
In August 2012, Kelly lost physical custody of the children, as the judge determined that she was purposely alienating them from their father. They then went to live with their father in France. While Daniel made efforts for Kelly to see the children, Kelly did not reciprocate and despite numerous court orders, she failed to put her ex-husband’s name on their daughter’s birth certificate.
In August 2015, she withheld the children when they were with her in the U.S. on a brief visit. A Manhattan judge ordered that the children be returned to their father, now living in Monaco, and they were escorted from the court directly to the airport.
3. Child support is payable for surrogate children.
Nobody gets a pass when it comes to paying child support, no matter how the child was conceived. When Sherry Shephard, a former co-host of The View, separated from husband Lamar Sally, the couple had already entered into a gestational carrier contract with a Pennsylvania woman. In the contract, the couple acknowledged themselves as legal parents with responsibility for the child. The baby boy was born in August 2014, before the divorce was finalized. Sherry denied any responsibility for the baby and sought to get her name removed from his birth certificate.
In November 2015, the Superior Court of Pennsylvania determined that the surrogacy agreement was valid and enforceable. Sherry’s name was not removed and she must continue to pay $4,100 per month for her son.
4. The terms of a settlement agreement mean what they say.
Publicly criticizing the ex might be cathartic, but it will rarely be constructive. Russian pianist Oksana Grigorieva found to her cost that ignoring the confidentiality aspect of her settlement agreement with Mel Gibson was a big mistake. Although Oksana never married the Mad Max star, they had a daughter together and split up when the child was six months old. According to the terms of the $750,000 settlement agreement, Oksana was not allowed to discuss Mel Gibson at all, but she went on The Howard Stern Show and did just that describing her experience with the actor as "painful and dark."
In February 2014, a California judge decided that Oksana should repay $375,000 (half of the settlement award). She subsequently filed for bankruptcy.
5. Damaging someone’s reputation via social media can be very expensive.
Deion Sanders, the NFL legend and star of reality TV show Deion’s Family Playbook, had a bitter divorce from wife Pilar in June 2013. Deion won custody of their three children and Pilar was granted visitation rights.
In December 2014, a Texas judge sentenced Pilar to seven days in jail for failing to return the children to their father on time in violation of the custody agreement. An outraged Pilar then alleged via social media that she and the children had suffered domestic violence at the hands of Deion.
In November 2015, a judge ordered Pilar to pay $2.2m to her ex-husband for defamation, which is reportedly a huge chunk of her alimony award.
6. There is an alternative to divorce.
In January 2004, superstar singer Britney Spears flew her childhood friend, Jason Alexander, on a private jet to Las Vegas in order to "hang out." She married him there, and the absence of a prenuptial agreement sent Britney’s team into meltdown.
Her lawyers immediately sought an annulment, declaring that the pop star "lacked understanding of her actions, to the extent that she was incapable of agreeing to the marriage," a requirement for a successful annulment in the state of Nevada. Fifty-five hours later, a Clark County family court judge signed the annulment papers and Britney was free to do it again and, more importantly, back in control of her fortune.
7. It can be civil.
Yes, some celebrities actually get divorced quietly and some even manage to remain good friends:
- Jane Seymour of Dr Quinn, Medicine Woman and James Keach divorced in 2013 after 24 years of marriage. They have twin sons together, spend Thanksgivings and Christmases together, and still work together on their charity.
- Actors Scarlett Johansson and Ryan Reynolds divorced in 2011 after nearly three years of marriage, and neither has ever said a bad word in public about their relationship.
- Gwyneth Paltrow and Coldplay’s Chris Martin celebrated the one-year anniversary of their "conscious uncoupling" by taking their two children to Mexico on holiday.