Our American culture is one that has become obsessed with all things celebrity. We often know more about the love lives and personal struggles of the top Hollywood movie stars, sports figures and athletes, and singers in our country than we do about members of our own families. Moreover, all of this information can be gathered just from standing in line at the grocery store. We have television programs-even entire networks-that are dedicated to tracking the day-to-day lives of celebrities and public figures. For some reason, the interest from readers and viewers seems to be heightened when the celebrity or public figure is going through a rough period in his or her life. Just think about the fascination with Britney Spears’ infamous meltdown during which she adopted a carefree hairstyle, did some damage with an umbrella, and lost custody of her children. Those images were plastered everywhere. Patrick Swayze is currently battling with courage against an aggressive form of pancreatic cancer, but the tabloids cannot wait to publish photos of him looking like his death is imminent. What is it about us that create such a fascination with watching others fall?
One area of celebrity life in which the public interest is particularly peaked is the difficult decision that two people make to file for a divorce. Every couple that decides to split faces difficult emotional and legal struggles. Add to this a media spotlight that scrutinizes every detail of the divorce proceedings and a public that determines the probable cause for the animosity and the guilty parties and you have what can quickly become an unbearable situation for the participants. Whether appropriate or not, there are countless high-profile celebrity divorces that have captivated our attention. Elizabeth Taylor was one of the frontrunners in achieving the media spotlight on her many divorces. More recently, we have gone through the sagas of Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston, Britney Spears and Kevin Federline, Paul McCartney and Heather Mills, and countless others. Just reticently, Mel Gibson and his wife of twenty-eight years have announced that they will be getting a divorce. Web sites and talk shows are already buzzing about how this legal settlement will be the most expensive in celebrity divorce settlement history. There always seems to be a new celebrity relationship ending in a volatile fashion to satisfy our appetites for gossip.
What often gets lost in these stories is the fact that two very real people, with emotions and feelings, are caught up in the circumstances. There also may be innocent children involved who did not ask to be celebrities and now face the possibility of seeing their parents’ personal arguments splashed across the evening news. Child custody and divorce attorneys who work with celebrities must be aware of the heightened need for privacy concerning all documentation that is printed and every conversation that takes place within office walls. That is why it is so important to hire the right law firm.
The law firms that are representing each party in a celebrity divorce must be certain that confidentiality agreements are signed by all employees involved in the case, that shredders are handy and used often, and that computer files are secure from hackers and simply those in the office who have no business seeing sensitive material. We all know how much money certain publications are willing to pay for a single piece of paper that may reveal an unsavory detail about a public figure or Hollywood celebrity. And, once a celebrity divorce client leaves a divorce attorney’s office and heads into the courtroom, there are additional issues of privacy that must be addressed. A lawyer who is working as the best possible advocate for his client will petition the family law court to close the proceedings to the public or seal the paperwork associated with a celebrity case. If a complete sealing of the records is not permitted, efforts should be made at least to keep private the specific documents that could be damaging to a client’s reputation. Whether fair or not, the public will take very painful episodes that occurred between two people and use this information against a celebrity even if his ability to excel in his chosen field has no connection to the allegations. Even worse, the court of public opinion often will not wait to discover if the assertions made in filed court documents are true before rendering their own verdict.
With this greater need for privacy concerning celebrity divorces in mind, there is an additional component to consider beyond the standard confidentiality that exists between every attorney and client. The reality is that a celebrity’s public image or celebrity status is often crucial to his or her continued success on the ball field, stage, or in front of the camera. Beyond simply reaching the best divorce settlement or result possible for the client, an attorney who is representing a celebrity during a divorce must handle the client’s image and how information concerning the legal proceedings is being distributed to the media. The divorce lawyer representing the celebrity must suddenly adopt the additional role of public relations expert in maneuvering through this delicate environment.
An estranged spouse with a grudge or a former employee who was privy to family secrets can be very dangerous to a celebrity who has carefully created a perception for the world to see. On the other hand, personal assistants, agents, and managers who are happy with their celebrity employers and want to ensure that they continue to have success in their chosen fields are some of the best resources when building evidence in a divorce case. Who better to vouch for a celebrity client’s schedule and personal priorities than someone who helps to plan his every move? Divorce lawyers must know how to work with these important witnesses to establish a sense of trust and confidence and then assist these representatives in molding a positive image of the client to news and other media outlets. When working with a celebrity client, the divorce attorney role necessarily extends well beyond the courtroom or office setting.
Law firms representing celebrity clients should have extensive experience handling the sensitive issues that are specific to celebrity divorces and child custody cases. Such divorce lawyers must take extraordinary measures to maintain their clients’ privacy and work with them to craft that all-important good standing in the public eye. Law firms representing celebrity clients should share the primary commitment to protecting their high-profile clients. They should work as a legal team to ensure the uninterrupted protection that celebrities require. This holds true from the moment a celebrity is assisted with a discreet entrance into our offices, through the negotiations that take place between all involved parties, and even after a settlement has been reached and signed. When you combine this extra step with the dedication and aggressive representation that our provide to every client, regardless of whether or not his face is recognizable to the public, those who are experiencing the painful steps of the divorce process can have confidence that their case will be given thorough attention.
Celebrities and others with large marital estates (most are multi-million dollar estates) who have a great deal at stake, both professionally and financially, should make certain that the attorneys they are hiring to guide them through a difficult divorce are prepared to take those extra steps that are needed in these unique circumstances.