July 16, 2012

How to prevent an acrimonious court divorce

The media may be disappointed at the lack of prolonged fireworks in a certain celebrity divorce, but we should be buoyed up by the fact that it is possible to reach agreement in even the most potentially contentious case. If Katie Holmes and Tom Cruise can do it, then so can you.

The gossip columnists of Hollywood and beyond are beside themselves in disappointment bordering on grief that Katie and Tom managed to avoid an elongated, very expensive, public bloodbath. It wasn’t about affordability, so what happened behind the scenes?

Tom and Katie’s lawyers will have explained the best and worst alternatives to reaching an agreement. They will have used the pre-nuptial agreement as a point of reference for the parameters of what might happen in court. In the relevant US jurisdiction, the court would be likely to follow the terms of the pre-nup. Therefore to fight in court would be fruitless, damaging and costly. Far better to retain control in private negotiations where there was still scope for flexibility and creative solutions.

Many have suggested that they only reached agreement so that details of Tom’s religious practices were not broadcast to the world. Yet is it possible that this is actually a situation where two people were determined to satisfy their clearly defined interests, taking account of the other’s requirements and putting their child’s welfare above all else? And even if the motivational forces did include avoidance of disclosure – so what?

When entering into negotiations, consider who else is directly or indirectly affected by the situation: the children; the wider family such as grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins; work colleagues; neighbours; friends; school teachers; and the religious community. How would the way in which you might resolve the related issues impact upon your relationships – and your children’s relationships – with those people?

Maintaining these relationships can be enormously beneficial, helping to mitigate against the sense of loss and bereavement. Losing wider connections impacts in so many ways upon a child’s view of life, and their feeling of security in the often new and unfamiliar environment into which they have been unwittingly thrust.

We at Jones Myers consider with you not only the detail but also the bigger picture and wider influences, so that you can put your situation into context and make decisions based on what is truly important for you and your family – not just now, not just in a year’s time but in five or ten years’ time. Children grow up. They graduate and get married. Wouldn’t they want both parents to be present on occasions of such importance in their lives?

So let us applaud Kate and Tom (and their teams of tenacious lawyers) for sparing themselves, their children and their connections from the unseemly and painful glare of publicity that would certainly have followed had they not reached agreement. Ultimately there will be no escape from the media spotlight, but their daughter Suri will hopefully appreciate, as she grows up, the effort made by her parents at this pivotal point to put her best interests above all else.