Divorce can be painful. For some it can feel like all of the most intimate details of your life are being picked over and scrutinized by strangers. This can be uncomfortable for any person but for a celebrity or public figure it can be downright invasive. Most celebrities already find their private lives on display for the entire world, whether they like it or not. For those in the “or not” camp, below are some dos and don’ts for divorcing in the public eye:
Do Consider Alternative Dispute Resolution: For many celebrity couples, privacy is a major concern. Just the idea of having the details of their divorce dissected in a public court may be upsetting. Publicity-shy actor Robert De Niro is no exception. He was spotted earlier this year having a meltdown on the courthouse steps after his driver left him waiting too long in front of a mob of paparazzi. When asked about it, opposing counsel seemed confused because De Niro was the one that filed the petition publicly with the court. Other options for the privacy concerned exist. Consider alternative dispute resolution methods: mediation, arbitration and collaborative law are alternatives to litigation that allow the parties to work toward a settlement agreement behind closed doors and away from the public eye.
Don’t Bad Mouth Your Spouse to the Press: Dealing with the press is nearly unavoidable when you’re a public figure. The world wants to know every detail of your life. While it’s not necessarily a bad idea to talk to the press during the divorce process, there is a right way and a wrong way to do it. The wrong thing to do is publicly drag your spouse through the mud. When Angelina Jolie filed for divorce from Brad Pitt, it took less than a day for her PR team to reach nearly every tabloid to feature “a source close to Angelina” claiming that Brad’s bad behavior caused the divorce. While it may seem enticing to try to get the press to take your side in the divorce, this almost always backfires. Instead of support, Angelina quickly faced criticism from media outlets for revealing the private details of her fallout with Brad and for involving the children in her crusade against him.
Do Consider Creating a Clear Message for the Press with Your Spouse: Instead of painting your ex as a villain, try working with him or her. Consider releasing a joint statement together. By doing this, you set your own narrative before the tabloids can manufacture drama. Channing Tatum and Jenna Dewan announced their divorce in April 2018 with a joint message posted to Instagram. It stated that the two had “lovingly chosen to separate as a couple…There are no secrets nor salacious events at the root of our decision—just two best-friends realizing its time to take some space and help each other live the most joyous, fulfilled lives as possible.” The couple concluded that they would not be commenting beyond this message and asked for privacy. Both have maintained this message throughout their divorce settlement process. At the onset of divorce proceedings it may seem impossible to stay positive. However, remaining civil and united in joint statements to the public is likely to save both parties from the pain and frustration that can be caused by losing control of the message.
Don’t Involve Your Children: There is usually one issue that divorcing parents can agree on: children should remain as sheltered from the process as possible. Despite this, children of divorcing parents often end up as pawns in their parents’ battle against one another. Many celebrities have been villainized by the media for involving their children in divorce and custody disputes, from Britney Spears to Alec Baldwin. Not only is this behavior almost guaranteed to garner bad press for celebrities, but involving a child in high conflict divorce and custody proceedings is likely to result in divided loyalties, estrangements, and parental alienation. Furthermore, it shows a domestic relations judge that the parent is unable to place the child’s well-being ahead of his or her own emotions, making it more difficult for that parent to achieve his or her goals in the process.
Do Focus on Co-Parenting Instead of Custody: A-list exes Jennifer Garner and Ben Affleck have taken a different and more positive approach with their children, choosing to focus on co-parenting instead of custody disputes. As part of their settlement agreement, the two agreed to share joint custody of their three children and regularly meet with a co-parenting therapist. They’ve been spotted taking their children to school together, attending kids’ sporting events, and even trick-or-treating together. The reality of divorce with children is that it may dissolve the bond between spouses, but it will never dissolve the bond between parents. When ex-spouses choose to co-parent, children of divorce can more easily manage the familial transition. It provides a safe environment for children to feel more open and honest with both parents, leading to reduced stress and anxiety and boosting self-esteem.
Tom Field ; Divorce and Family Law Partner
Jacqueline Mazur; Divorce and Family Law Attorney
 Garry R. Walz and Dr. Jeanne C. Bleuer, Tug of War Child: Counseling Children Involved in High Conflict Divorces, Vistas Online (March 22, 2013), https://www.counseling.org/docs/default-source/vistas/the-tug-of-war-child-counseling-children-involved.pdf?sfvrsn=62d8c566_13