Angelina Jolie’s attorney reveals what really happens in a Hollywood divorce

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Moya Crockett
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When the news broke that Angelina Jolie had filed for divorce from Brad Pitt after two years of marriage and 12 years together, one of the biggest questions in Hollywood was: who will she hire to represent her in court?

The answer, when it came, was almost predictable. Jolie has enlisted the services of Laura Wasser, one of Hollywood’s go-to divorce attorneys.

It’s not the first time the pair have worked together: 48-year-old uber-lawyer Wasser represented Jolie in her 2003 divorce from Billy Bob Thornton. But Wasser’s long list of other clients reads like a who’s-who of unhappy Hollywood endings. Johnny Depp was a client during his divorce from Amber Heard, as was Britney Spears when she split from Kevin Federline. Stevie Wonder, Gwen Stefani, Jennifer Garner and several Kardashians have also enlisted her services.

In a recent interview published in Vanity Fair, Wasser reveals the murky truth behind negotiating a celebrity divorce. Here, we’ve picked out her most revealing insights. 

There’s no way of knowing which marriages will work

“One thing I’ve learned after practicing family law as long as I have: I do not judge,” says Wasser, who joined her father’s law firm when she was 26 and in the process of going through her own divorce.

“Some of the most unlikely relationships have lasted the longest both in and out of Hollywood, and some of the ones that you would have thought would have been great matches, fall apart a year later.”

Celebrity sex: there is such a thing as TMI

Unlike the rest of the world, Wasser says she is largely uninterested in her clients’ sex lives. But her superstar clients – perhaps because they’re so used to people being fascinated in their personal lives – tend to overshare.

“I don’t know why it’s brought up, but they always bring it up,” she says. “I’m saying, ‘It doesn’t matter!’ But people want to tell me all about whatever was the matter or weird in their sex lives. . . . I say to them, ‘I really don’t need to hear it and I certainly don’t need to see it. Please don’t bring me any pictures. Please don’t bring me any videos. I believe you.’

“Yeah,” she concludes, “we get very, very close to our clients in a short period of time.”

Actors are surprisingly undramatic when it comes to divorce

Wasser has worked with all manner of Hollywood types, from musicians to CEOs, film directors to superstar athletes. And apparently, actors like Jolie and Pitt are usually reasonably easy to handle.

“[Actors] just want to get through it,” she says. “They take direction, if you will, very well. They like to be able to listen to what I have to say and as long as I explain it to them in common parlance as opposed to some kind of legalese, they’re very appreciative of knowing that there’s [someone] like a director and there’s a plan and they follow direction pretty well.”

It’s all about timing

According to Wasser, celebrities will often attempt to carefully time their divorce announcements in order to minimise media fallout. Summer Fridays are apparently a good time to drop the news, particularly those falling just before a holiday weekend: any children shared by the couple won’t be in school, and journalists are less likely to be paying close attention.

If possible, Wasser tells Vanity Fair, it’s also a good idea to make the announcement in tandem with another celebrity divorce. In a 2015 interview with Bloomberg, Wasser revealed that she encouraged her clients Jennifer Garner and Gwen Stefani to file from divorce from their respective husbands (Ben Affleck and Gavin Rossdale) at the same time, so that public attention was divided between the two splits. 

Keep it on the down low

If a celebrity couple genuinely wants to deflect tabloid attention from their divorce (sometimes to protect their children from reading endless news stories about their parents’ relationship), Wasser says that settlements are often hashed out before the couple formally files for divorce.

“People may not even realize that this couple is getting divorced, but we’re actually all the way through the entire settlement before they even file anything with the court and announce to the world that they’re splitting up,” she says.

“Then they don’t have to go through their entire divorce-settlement negotiation under a microscope.”

What really causes a messy celebrity divorce?

A lot of time, effort and money goes into minimising the media fallout from a celebrity split. So what’s going on behind the scenes in an acrimonious case like Johnny Depp and Amber Heard’s, when both sides start going to the press with conflicting stories?

Wasser thinks it’s partly down to ego. “I think it takes a certain personality to sign up for that and it also takes a certain panel of representatives,” she tells Vanity Fair.  

“Most of the good family-law attorneys will work with each other and figure out a way to protect their clients, but there are always family-law attorneys who feel like there is some way for them to benefit by getting their name mentioned or being caught on film with their arm around their client.”

Images: Rex Features, Getty