Hollywood does divorce

They say breaking-up is hard to do - especially when millions of dollars are at stake. As Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston finally reach a settlement, Andrew Gumbel looks at the rules of disengagement in a town where only the lawyers live happily ever after

"In Hollywood," Lauren Bacall once quipped, "an equitable divorce settlement means each party getting 50 per cent of the publicity." Her words are truer than they might sound. To most ordinary mortals, marriage might be a union of two people who do their level best to stay together until death do them part. But in Hollywood a marriage is many more things besides: it's a business proposition, a media event, and something that sells newspapers and glossy magazines and pays the rent of enterprising, sometimes unscrupulous, photographers and gossip writers.

Unsurprisingly, Hollywood marriages - laden as they are with money, raging egos and so many interests beyond the mutual attraction of two much-photographed people - fail much more often than others. Around six out of 10, according to one estimate, end in divorce, and that creates a whole new industry of family lawyers, business consultants, home refurbishers, psychological counsellors and, yes, more grist for the celebrity-gossip mill.

Following the finalisation of their divorce last year, Jennifer Aniston and Brad Pitt have just finished divvying up their joint assets. She gets the $29m Beverly Hills mansion, while he gets a controlling interesting in their $50m production company. As Hollywood splits go (and despite Brad playing happy families with Angelina Jolie) the end of their fairy tale has been relatively amicable. That, however, is not always the case...

TO PRE-NUP OR NOT TO PRE-NUP?

Conventional wisdom says you have to be insane to marry a Hollywood celebrity without a legal agreement on going in. Tom Cruise didn't have one for his first marriage to Mimi Rogers, but back in 1991 he wasn't quite the star he has since become. Jennifer Lopez didn't have one for her nine-month marriage to the choreographer Cris Judd, and ended up paying $6.6m to get him to agree not to blab about their union to the press - roughly $750,000 per month of marriage. Roseanne Barr's failure to sign a pre-nuptial agreement (pre-nup) with Tom Arnold - she fired her pre-nup lawyer - ended up costing her $50m.

When the Coen brothers made their send-up of Hollywood divorces, Intolerable Cruelty (2003), they made their protagonist, played by George Clooney, the maestro of the pre-nup. "My wife has me between a rock and a hard place," complains one potential client. "That's her job," Clooney's character counters. "You should respect that."

A LAWYER IN THE FAMILY

Talking of Tom Cruise, one has to wonder whether his current choice of paramour, Katie Holmes, was an entirely wise one, since Holmes's father Martin is a prominent divorce attorney in their home town of Toledo, Ohio. The scuttlebutt is that the reason that they are yet to tie the knot is Martin's hard-nosed bargaining over their pre-nup: rumours are flying that the Holmeses are holding out for a chunky lump sum if the union is dissolved inside of five years. Yet more rumours abound that the couple have, in fact, split up.

The noted divorce attorney Raoul Felder commented recently: "Given Tom's history, if they don't have a pre-nup, forget a lawyer - they need psychiatrists." (Felder obviously forgot that, as a Scientologist, Cruise regards psychiatrists as evil mind-bending crypto-Nazis, but that's another story.)

THE SHORTEST MARRIAGE

Hard to say for sure, but Britney Spears has to be a contender for the 55-hour union with her childhood friend Jason Alexander in 2004. The pair went to Las Vegas, spent two days drinking at the Palms Hotel, tied the knot in a 15-minute ceremony at a wedding chapel, and then almost instantly regretted it. The only reason they stayed married as long as they did was that it was a weekend, and Spears' lawyers could not obtain an annulment until the Monday.

THE MOST ACRIMONIOUS SPLIT OF ALL

There's a lot of competition for this one, and it's impossible to adjudicate because we don't know the half of what goes on behind closed doors.

John Denver once took a chainsaw to his marital bed - about as definitive a statement as anyone has made. Mia Farrow accused Woody Allen of child abuse, and he responded by marrying her adopted daughter - but these might not count because they were never formally married. Roseanne Barr called Tom Arnold a "disgusting pig" and said she wanted to slit his throat.

Asked whether success had changed James Cameron, the director-husband she was divorcing, Linda Hamilton told a reporter: "He always was a jerk so there's no way to really measure." The actor Anthony Quinn waged a war of attrition against the wife he was married to for 29 years, fighting her down to the last television set and having her banned from ever setting foot in his favourite restaurant.

THE BEST LAWYERS MONEY CAN BUY

The top dog in the Hollywood divorce business is undoubtedly Dennis Wasser, who has represented Tom Cruise, Steven Spielberg, Clint Eastwood, Lionel Richie and the ex-wives of Harrison Ford, Michael Douglas and Neil Diamond. Feuding couples have been known to fight over who gets to be represented by him; he says he takes them strictly on a first-come, first-served basis. He made his mark in the 1970s, when he prevented Billie Jean King from having to pay support to her lesbian ex-lover.

He was sued recently by Steve Bing, the property magnate and former boyfriend of Liz Hurley, who accused Wasser of going through his rubbish in search of a DNA sample to try to establish paternity in the high-profile Kerkorian divorce case (see below). Mostly, though, Wasser leaves the dirt and the mud-slinging to his clients - he's had to argue on their behalf over who gets the air-miles, or the tablecloth, or the pet parrot.

The godfather of Hollywood divorce lawyers, though, was probably Marvin Mitchelson, who shot to fame representing James Mason's wife Pamela, who won twice as much as she had originally asked for in her settlement after she threatened to go public with details of Mason's sex life.

In the 1970s, Mitchelson won a settlement for Lee Marvin's live-in girlfriend, the first recorded instance of what is now known as "palimony". Mitchelson's career came crashing down in 1988, when he was accused of misappropriating clients' money. Five years later, he was convicted of tax evasion and declared bankrupt. "Old lawyers don't die," he joked, "they just lose their appeal."

THE MOST INSANE SPOUSAL SUPPORT DEMAND

This is a toss-up between Diane Richie, who spent 20 years with singer hubbie Lionel, and Lisa Bonder Kerkorian, a one-time tennis pro who spent the best part of a decade with the media mogul Kirk Kerkorian but was only actually married to him for 29 days. Diane Richie demanded $300,000 a month, including $15,000 on clothes, shoes and handbags, $600 for Pilates classes and more besides on plastic surgery, hair, nails, electrolysis, facials, laser hair-removal, jewellery and computer lessons. Lisa Kerkorian wanted $320,000 a month for herself and her daughter Kira, including $144,000 for travel, $14,000 for Kira's parties and play dates and more than $10,000 for restaurants and catering.

It is not known how the Richie divorce played out, but the Kerkorians' war really heated up when Kirk claimed Kira was not his biological daughter and said he could prove it. The identity of the father was never made public, by agreement between Kerkorian and Steve Bing (see above); but Lisa ended up with $50,000 a month, although she is fighting for more.

THE HENRY VIII AWARD FOR MULTIPLE MARRIAGES

No severed heads in Hollywood, but Liz Taylor is still the queen with eight marriages to seven men (she and Richard Burton tried it twice - only to decide they were afraid of Virginia Woolf after all).

Anyone wanting to bet on a possible successor could do worse than back Jennifer Lopez, who at the age of 36, is already on hubby number three, Marc Anthony. This is not counting her extended relationship with Sean Combs, or her engagement and almost-marriage to Ben Affleck.

SOME VERY HOLLYWOOD TERMINOLOGY

Renée Zellweger ended her short marriage to the country-music singer Kenny Chesney last year, accusing him of "fraud" and demanding an annulment. This is rare legal parlance meaning that the marriage was entered into under false pretences. In previous cases, one partner has turned out to be knowingly gay, or has lied about wanting children, or has turned out to be a pauper dressed up as a prince (or princess). We don't know what Zellweger was driving at, but the hopes surrounding their barefoot wedding ceremony were clearly dashed extremely quickly.

Several couples have cited something called "celebrity goodwill" in their divorce petitions. For the less-famous partner, this generally means getting compensated for the fact that the A-list party invitations won't be quite as forthcoming in future. For the more famous partner, it's a way of arguing that the ex has derived personal benefits and earning power by association with his or her celebrity status, and therefore deserves less, not more, compensation for the split.

THE CRUDDIEST TIMING

Back to Tom Cruise again - he filed for divorce from Nicole Kidman exactly three days before their 10th wedding anniversary when, under Californian law, he might have become liable to pay her support for the rest of their lives. Kidman was reported to be blindsided by the timing, but the couple later split their assets, and custody of their two children, amicably enough.

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