Angelina Jolie has signed up Hollywood’s most fearsome divorce lawyer, writes Suzanne Harrington
BAD parenting. Alcohol and marijuana misuse. Infidelity. Boom — Angelina Jolie fired her shots first, applying for sole physical custody of her six children. Such a request implies their dad, Brad Pitt, is a bit too prone to the verbal and physical outbursts cited in her divorce petition to be in equal charge of the kids.
Nonsense, responds Pitt, she’s mad as a box of frogs. Or as The Sun quoted him, “She’s crazy, but I still love her.”
High-profile women who abruptly stop playing the role given them by the media — in Jolie’s case, the wife half of Brangelina — are always branded mad, and their men long-suffering.
You can’t get much higher profile in the entertainment business than Angelina Jolie; breaking up under a media microscope requires the adoption of stealth divorce tactics so that the person petitioning gets in their first, makes their allegations first, and attempts to win what is essentially a propaganda war in terms of making their soon-to-be ex appear negative in the public eye.
But how inutterably unpleasant. Why go to such lengths? Is it revenge, frustration, or self-preservation? All of the above?
The tabloids have been hoping for a Jolie-Pitt break-up pretty much since the day the couple met (just as they created an entire fantasy spin-off around the reconciliation of Pitt and his first wife Jennifer Aniston, despite zero evidence to ever support this idea, and Aniston being happily married elsewhere).
The jaded “mad wife” archetype was used again and again in the tabloids during the 12 years the couple were together: Jolie barely eats; she’s mad; she drinks wine; she’s mad; she’s wasting away; she’s mad; she’s jealous; she’s mad. You get the idea. She’s mad. As in bonkers.
“Brad married a fucking lunatic,” said US broadcaster Chelsea Handler, live on air, as the divorce was announced. Gossip site TMZ calls Jolie a “control freak”, while the Daily Mail talks about Jolie’s “coven” of female friends who have “brainwashed” her.
It now rather sounds like Jolie is mad as in angry. An incident on a private plane where Pitt was allegedly wasted and abusive towards their eldest child proved the last straw; she filed for divorce the next day.
Jolie hired Hollywood’s most fearsome divorce lawyer, Laura Alison Wasser. Wasser was named by her equally fearsome father — also a lawyer, who set up their family law firm in 1976 — so that her initials would be LAW.
She has been nicknamed the Disso Queen by TMZ, for her unwavering ability to legally dissolve high profile marriages with the minimum of carnage. She doesn’t work with anyone worth less than $10m. In her office there hangs a large framed print which reads “The End”.
But first, more about Brad Pitt’s alleged infidelity. Straight away, the French actor Marion Cotillard was cited — even though she is expecting her second child with her long-term partner Guillaume Canet.
Taking to Instagram, she was forced into the position of denying rumours that s he had bagged Brad, leading one commentator to write in Salon, “The sexist trope of blaming women for a man’s infidelity is trotted out every other week to sell tabloids, allowing men to get off the hook while their wives and mistresses are burned at the stake for their dirty deeds.”
While there is no suggestion of any wrong doing on Cotillard’s part, she was nevertheless implicated in an unethical interaction with someone else’s spouse. Did Jolie — known for her feminism and humanitarianism — throw another woman under the bus in order to strengthen her own divorce petition?
Or is it more tabloid creation?
Laura Wasser advises clients to keep a divorce diary in the months before filing, which can provide a timeline of the relationship breakdown — when clients are very rich, there are often huge sums at stake.
In California, unless you have a prenup, spouses are entitled to half of everything post-divorce. Amber Heard and Johnny Depp did not have a prenup.
Heard divorced Depp, and applied for a restraining order, after alleging he physically assaulted her. She made public the photograph of her injured face — but was still presented in the media as a gold digger.
Her lawyers were quoted in the Daily Mail, stating how: “Amber has suffered through years of physical and psychological abuse at the hands of Johnny. In domestic violence cases, it is not unusual for the perpetrator’s playbook to include miscasting the victim as the villain.”
Heard settled for $7m — which she donated to charity, thus killing off the gold digger accusations — and said she would not be making any further comment, which usually means there’s a gagging order in place.
When her lawyers issued a statement saying that Heard had been “vindicated in the court of public opinion”, Depp’s legal team forced a retraction and apology. His representative? Laura Wasser.
Wasser first represented Angelina Jolie in 2003 during her second divorce from Billy Bob Thornton (with whom Amber Heard was falsely accused of adultery in her divorce from Depp. Confused? Me too). Wasser’s father Dennis, in whose firm she is a partner, has represented Steven Spielberg, Tom Cruise, Clint Eastwood, Jennifer Lopez, Billie Jean King, and Mia Farrow.
His daughter’s first major client was Stevie Wonder in 2001, followed by high profile divorce cases including Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, and Arnold Schwarzenegger , and at least three Kardashians. When it comes to uncoupling, conscious or otherwise, she is the go-to breaker-upper.
So how do very well-known, very wealthy people who have massively fallen out of love manage to dissolve their union without every aspect of their now-toxic relationship becoming public property?
Private judges, says Wasser. Speaking to the Hollywood Reporter, she tells how the hiring of retired family court judges is proving increasingly popular for the rich and famous, because it is more discreet, and faster.
“Our court system is so unbelievably clogged up that I will sit there all day long billing at my hourly rate only to have a judge say ‘Sorry, we don’t have time’,” Wasser says.
“If you hire a private judge, you can work out the details before you file anything. It keeps it more private, and you have more seasoned judicial officers, as opposed to newbies.”
And you don’t have Wasser running up all-day bills of $850 per hour, with a $25,000 retainer, for sitting in a court room doing nothing (Alec Baldwin had to let her go — he couldn’t afford her).
Also, divorcing couples — often themselves the adult children of divorced parents — remember how it feels, and are therefore far more child-centric when separating than previous generations.
Wasser has seen a growing trend where the family home remains intact, rather than being sold, with the separated parents rotating in and out to co- parent their children.
She is a consummate mediator, unfazed by giant stardom. Says a family law colleague in Bloomberg, if you want to go to court, you engage Dennis Wasser, but if you want a deal done discreetly behind closed doors, you go to Laura.
In terms of damage limitation for the six junior members of the Jolie Pitt family, this sounds like a glimmer of positivity in an otherwise painful family break up.
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