The divorce process is generally daunting and difficult for couples as well as their children, whether young or grown. The challenges we see in private often play out in public when celebrities call it quits. This year, several high-profile pairings ended, dominating tabloid headlines and social media. But no matter how publicized the breakups, there are plenty of takeaways from these celebrity splits to help minimize potential drama and damage to you and your family during divorce.
Takeaway #1: Protect Your Privacy
One of the biggest surprises in 2023 was the announcement that Hugh Jackman and his wife of nearly 30 years, Deborra-lee Furness, were divorcing. The two released an amicable statement in September saying they were going their separate ways. The joint statement was classy, appropriate and without finger-pointing or venom.
It’s not just celebrities, though, who are avoiding public noise as they navigate the process and deliver a joint message once completed. Intelligent and mature non-famous couples and influencers are intentionally keeping their private matters quiet and later sharing news of their split. Throughout the process, many people do not realize that publicly shaming your soon-to-be former spouse or asking friends to take sides only makes everyone look poorly, and friends are seldom made, but often lost, when creating a public spectacle, even in a small community.
Protect your reputation and your family’s privacy by avoiding “going public” with what is happening. Whether you are a public figure or not, beware of a lawyer who advises you to make a statement or publicize your family issues, as it seldom pays dividends, and it’s likely the attorney is seeking attention for themselves and may not have your best interests at heart. If a statement is necessary to mitigate speculation and control the narrative, work out the logistics of the divorce first and then provide only a few high-level nuggets in a carefully crafted statement and move on. People ask me all the time, “What should I say to friends and family?” The answer is almost always “as little as possible.”
Takeaway #2: Don’t Judge What Works for Others
It came as a shock to many this fall when Jada Pinkett-Smith revealed that she and Will Smith had been separated since 2016. The two say they don’t plan on filing for divorce. While it may seem unconventional, different situations work for different people.
Couples opt to physically separate instead of legally divorcing for a variety of reasons. They may be giving themselves breathing room and trying to save the marriage by following the advice of a therapist. Although some lawyers may advise otherwise, personal trust and a good faith agreement about finances and children can go a long way when trying to salvage a relationship. Child support and custody agreements may not be needed during a separation if two people are on the same page. However, if you have minor children, you’ll want to ensure there is a clear understanding of parenting roles. If an informal, verbal agreement isn’t enough, you may need to seek formal rules through the court, but that would generally entail a divorce filing.
Takeaway #3: Stay Civil, Especially When Kids Are Involved
While their divorce was settled in 2022, Tom Brady and Gisele Bundchen’s breakup made headlines again in 2023 when Bundchen spoke about the split for the first time in an interview. She acknowledged the difficulty of the divorce and spoke highly of her former husband and their co-parenting relationship.
Since then, she and Brady have continued to say positive things about each other. The two have made it a priority to stay civil for the sake of their children. Ultimately, divorce is a family matter. Taking the high road and working together on a kid-centric resolution is a way for you and your ex-spouse to walk away with an outcome that works for all, and give your children the gift of not worrying if their parents can be in the same room as each other.
Takeaway #4: Try Alternative Dispute Resolution Before Going to Court
Things got messy quickly between Joe Jonas and Sophie Turner when Jonas filed for divorce in September. The two engaged in a very public court battle over where the children would live before agreeing to a temporary arrangement through mediation. The fight over children residing in very different parts of the world is not easy to resolve peacefully. Those cases generally have “winner take all” outcomes with tremendous emotional (and financial) costs.
Very seldom do litigants feel that justice is served in a family courtroom, and those “aha” winning moments you see on television are few and far between in the real world. Alternative dispute resolution (ADR) has become a very viable option for most people. Depending on your preferences and situation, ADR could involve mediation, collaborative divorce or arbitration (more adversarial but with a certainty of resolution), and it provides greater control over the pace, cost and overall outcome in a more private setting.
Takeaway #5: A Prenup Will Not Cover Child Support
One of the messiest divorces of the year involved Kevin Costner and Christine Baumgartner. The pair made headlines for their months-long contentious court fight, which involved Baumgartner’s request for child support in excess of $150,000 per month.
The two had a prenup in place, but generally, it is against public policy for prenups to include specific provisions regarding child support amounts or child custody clauses regarding decision-making or parenting schedules. Broad guidelines may be helpful and provide direction and peace of mind, but those provisions almost certainly will not be enforced.
In the end, whether you’re a celebrity or not, it’s crucial when going through a divorce to work with a competent and compassionate attorney who can offer solutions, manage your expectations and be your guide to navigate this stressful and emotional time. The most impressive long-term outcomes I see are when two people work to generate goodwill, put their children first and prioritize being generous to each other. Avoid tabloid-type drama by not creating unwanted noise, ignoring negative influences and clearly focusing on what’s important for your future and the future of your family.