More than likely you’d have to have been living under a rock to have missed all the news on the Katie Holmes/Tom Cruise divorce. I have to admit, even as a family law attorney for whom such cases seem routine, I was mesmerized by each and every detail of the unfolding drama, logging onto the People Magazine website hourly seeking updates to the most potentially salacious and juicy divorce case in recent history.
But alas, Tom and Katie let us spectators all down by settling out of court! Not only did they settle, they settled within a week of filing their initial documents. I for one wanted to hear details on the inner workings of the Church of Scientology, or hear confirmations on the rumors of Tom’s affairs, or tidbits on where Suri would be spending her Christmas holidays.
So, despite all the letdown, I must say Katie really did this right. In fact, she may set the textbook standard for how to get the settlement those seeking divorce really want.
First, Katie knew exactly what she wanted and she planned ahead to get it. She did her research and had a plan in place before she showed her hand by even mentioning, let alone filing, for divorce. Based on many news reports I have read, and based on the history of many Hollywood divorces before her, Tom and Katie probably had a prenuptial agreement that provided for an increasing property settlement for every year of marriage, generally providing for an increased bonus upon reaching a milestone in the relationship such as five years.
But rather than filing immediately upon reaching the fifth year of matrimony, Katie bided time and had planned a course of attack. She identified her most important issue (primary custody of Suri) and planned a course of action that would ensure victory on that particular point. Part of this was establishing verifiable residency in New York, where laws were more favorable towards the custody dynamic she sought to establish. Luckily she was able to do that without raising a huge amount of attention which would otherwise be generated by relocating across country. She simply starting spending more time in the New York house than the Los Angeles house.
To file in New York, she had to have lived there with Suri for the past six months. She did that and established New York as the home state of the minor child ensuring she could file in New York and maintain New York City as her primary home.
By planning ahead for your own settlement, you may wish to go ahead and secure a new home for you and any children, or in the alternative, ask your spouse to move out. In either case, start setting aside money for attorneys fees and living expenses. Remember, once the divorce is final, you will effectively be supporting two households with half the amount of money you used to have. By planning ahead you can ensure there is adequate income to support you through the pendency of the divorce and afterwards as well.
In addition to simply planning ahead, identify your most important issues, prioritze on obtaining that particular item, and be willing to negotiate on the rest. For Katie, in addition to relocating to New York, she wanted Suri raised in the Catholic religion rather than Scientology. And according to various sources, Tom did agree to this stipulation. Tom cannot actively indoctrinate Suri in his religion until such time that Suri is able to make her own decisions on religion, presumably in her teenage years.
Like Katie, you priority may also be raising your child in your own religion, relocating with your child or simply obtaining primary custody. Alternatively, it may be retaining the house or your retirement account. Regardless. Have the goal clearly prioritized beforehand. If your spouse agrees to your most important item, it may behoove you to give in on other issues.
Finally, the one thing Katie Holmes did really well was enlist a wise group of friends, family and attorneys to assist her. This "Greek Chorus", as many attorneys refer to it, is a a valuable asset and can be both your best friend, but possibly your worst enemy. As your best friend, this group will advise you in the law and in fairness. As your worst enemy this group will simply tell you want you want to hear ("Yes, you will get $5,000.00 per month in alimony, just like I did!"). Ensure your "chorus" is filled with truly wise and caring friends, and not solely your recently divorced (and still bitter) best girlfriend. Better yet, see the counsel of any attorney well before you commence your plan for divorce.
In summation, plan ahead in securing housing, savings and other ideas. Know what you want and request it from the start. Know what you are willing to accede on in order to obtain that most important item. And secure a close group of friends and advisors who will counsel you prior to filing and all along the way. Katie Holmes did all of this and obtained exactly what she needed and most of what she wanted in a very short amount of time, and with the added feat of being a celebrity who maintained a high level of privacy. So, while I may want to “move like Jagger”, I want to divorce like Holmes.
* A reference to my favorite Katie Holmes movie, “Pieces of April”.