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Are Celebrity Divorces Different From Regular Divorces?

As entertainment news periodicals have been telling us for years: “Celebrities are people, too, just like us.” They get married and they get divorced. For many reasons, however, celebrity divorces can quickly become much more complex than your average divorce. They tend to be more costly, more drawn-out, and in many cases, more heated. Below, we discuss a few of the ways celebrity divorces differ from the typical divorce. Contact a professional Englewood high-asset divorce attorney for help with a New Jersey family law matter.

Privacy and the Public Eye

Court filings are usually a matter of public record. Most of the time, this is not an issue; the public at large tends not to care about your average person getting a divorce. When there are matters of a sensitive nature, such as corporate trade secrets or matters of national security, courts are willing to issue orders protecting the information disclosed in the lawsuit from reaching the public. Celebrity divorces, however, fall in a strange category of their own.

Actors, musicians, and other celebrities often make their livelihood on their public image. Sponsorship deals and record sales depend in large part on how the celebrity is perceived. Not to mention the fact that the public is voyeuristically interested in dissecting and judging the sordid affairs of famous people. The types of issues that arise in a divorce–who gets the children, who gets child support, etc.–are not the kinds of things that courts usually believe are so sensitive as to require hiding them from the public. When the parties to a divorce are public figures, however, the details of their personal lives might be so intertwined with their professional lives that they merit protection from view.

A savvy public figure divorce attorney can help ensure that the details of a celebrity divorce are kept from the public. Courts have the power to seal records, issue gag orders, and otherwise prevent court disclosures that would typically be public from becoming so. Judges use that power sparingly, however, believing that the public has the general right to know about what happens in court.

Intellectual Property Rights and Other Complex Assets

Divorces involve a variety of assets. Some of those assets can be challenging to split; fairly dividing retirement accounts, for example, may necessitate soliciting opinions from actuaries, accountants, and other financial experts. Celebrity divorces often involve even more nebulous property rights, however.

Some of the most contentious celebrity divorce battles concern intellectual property rights. IP rights cover intangible assets like trademarks, copyrights, and patents. These rights are monetized into licenses, royalties, and other financial arrangements. Those arrangements can be worth millions of dollars, but they can also be incredibly difficult to value. How can you decide the future value of a famous actor’s commercial royalties, such that you can divide that value in present-day dollars? What portion of that value constitutes marital property anyway?

Sometimes the relevant issues are even more impenetrable. For example, Michael Douglas and his ex-wife spent over a decade arguing over royalties to the film Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps. The parties’ original settlement gave her the rights to any spinoffs of the original Wall Street film. The gods of Hollywood, however, distinguish between “spinoffs” and “sequels.” If Money Never Sleeps is a sequel instead of a spinoff, she is not entitled to any part of the film’s royalties. These bizarre distinctions can easily cause celebrity divorces to go on for years longer than the typical divorce.

More Than Just the Couple is Affected

In addition to dealing with complex, difficult-to-value assets and convoluted legal details, celebrity divorces are more likely to involve bigger assets that affect the lives of more than just the couple and their children. Celebrities often own large businesses or manage large teams, and splitting those assets can have significant repercussions.

For example, in 2009 ownership of the Major League Baseball team the Los Angeles Dodgers was at stake in a divorce. The parties disputed whether a postnuptial agreement granted the husband full ownership of the team, especially given that the wife had been fired as Dodgers CEO shortly before the parties filed for divorce. At stake was a professional sports team worth hundreds of millions of dollars and decision-making power for a massive franchise employing thousands of people. Celebrity divorces can be large, wide-ranging matters that cover a range of complex assets with implications for many people beyond the couple involved.

Trusted Advice and Representation for New Jersey Divorce Matters

If you’re facing divorce in New Jersey or dealing with child support, child custody, property division, or other family law issues, contact the Englewood family law attorneys Herbert & Weiss at (201) 500-2151.