Laura Wasser: Divorce Lawyer to the Stars

On pre-nups, the modern family and why she didn’t marry her baby daddies.

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It’s past four when Laura Wasser, 44, sweeps into her law offices in Century City in Los Angeles, looking all chic and put together. She’s just come from one of those fancy “Women in Hollywood” luncheons full of top agents, studio executives and stars. It was hosted by The Hollywood Reporter and sponsored by Michael Kors.

“Oh it’s all very fabulous, but the thing is, I’m not even a real entertainment lawyer, I just get lumped in,” she says, laughing. “But it’s fine with me!”

Wasser is Hollywood’s leading celebrity divorce lawyer. And the “celebrity” part appears to have rubbed off. She has handled break-ups for Angelina Jolie, Maria Shriver, Kim Kardashian, Stevie Wonder, Britney Spears…it’s a long list. Right now, she has 35 active cases, allegedly including Laura Dern, Heidi Klum, Dennis Quaid and 80s saxophonist Kenny G (though Wasser herself won’t reveal any names). She even looks like a celebrity – the kind of lawyer that all those hot TV lawyers are based on. She’s smart, fast-talking, expensive (at up to $800 an hour), and in the words of the drooling producers at TMZ, “superfine.”

Divorce and celebrity are all Wasser have ever known. Her father started the firm where she’s partner, so she grew up around stories of Hollywood break-ups. (The character Arnie Becker in L.A. Law was based on her dad.) Then her parents divorced when she was 16, a mercifully un-traumatic business: “They did it so gracefully and graciously. We still have lots of family occasions together.” And then she passed the bar herself, got married to a Spaniard in a beautiful wedding, only to find herself a year later plunged into the family business.

“For a minute, I worked at the Western Law Center for disability rights, writing up briefs to put safety things in public bathrooms,” she says. “But then I split up with my husband, and I needed to make a living. So I told my dad, ‘I don’t think it’s going to work out’. And he said, ‘Great, take care of it.’ That was my first case.”

Wasser has avoided marriage ever since. She has a seven-year old boy by a man she met a decade ago (and split up with five years ago), and a two-year old boy by another guy. So now, Wasser lives in a house in the Hollywood hills above the Sunset Strip, and she shares parenting with her two baby daddies who live separately.

“But it works, you know?” she says. “The two baby daddies are my family, and their families are my family. And there’s the family I grew up with – I have a brother, my parents who all live here…my cup runneth over.”

An Interview with Laura Wasser

Is it fun dealing with divorce all day?

It’s not fun to see people miserable. But I like solving problems and helping people move on. My father said that criminal defense attorneys see bad people at their best, and divorce attorneys see good people at their worst.

Divorce sounds like a bit of a downer.

True. But I don’t believe that in 2012 you need to look at divorce as a failure. I don’t know that human beings were meant to mate for life. Even if you have kids, that doesn’t mean living under the same roof and being miserable. It’s good for kids to see that moms can work and be loved and dance and whatever.

Do you end up giving emotional support as well as legal support?

Not really. I tell them that a) your therapist costs less than I do, and b) what do I know? I’ve got two kids with two different dads, I’m not the person to give you relationship advice.

How does it affect your own relationships? You know how therapists need therapy because they hear problems all day…

I need therapy, too! I do think my job makes me less demanding and confrontational in my own relationships. I get home and say, “That’s great honey, whatever you say!”

Did you ever consider marrying one of your baby daddies?

I’m sure it was a conversation. But I’ve had one wedding, I don’t need another. And I don’t want the state of California to dictate how I organize my personal affairs. In California, one half of everything you earn belongs to your spouse, but I like keeping what I earn. Nobody that I live with needs half of my money. Or vice versa.

So you’ve got two boys.

Yes, and one’s two-and-a-half so I’m potty training right now!

What’s been your guiltiest moment as a mom?

I haven’t had one yet. Touch wood. There’s been a lot of screaming in the car to get from work to a parent teacher conference or a school program, but thus far I’ve been lucky. Keep in mind I’m an older mom so I was already a partner in my firm when I had my first son. So when I need to be at the pre-school Halloween parade – and when I come in wearing my full Queen of Hearts regalia – no one says anything.

Do divorce lawyers get invited to weddings?

Yes! I love weddings. But I try not to give my cards out. Actually, I don’t carry cards – nobody wants to find my card in their spouse’s wallet.

How do men and women approach divorce differently?

A better generalization is “earner spouse” versus “supported spouse.” Generally the earner spouse treats it as a more transactional affair – they want the best deal possible. The supported spouse on the other hand is motivated more by fear of what they will not have. I actually find that men and women have the same anxieties about their kids, whereas before it was a lot more mom-oriented. And dads want 50/50 custody! Gone are the days of “well, he’s the dad, so he gets every other weekend and a Wednesday.”

Any advice for women who are the main earners?

Get a pre-nup. Have a frank discussion about people’s responsibilities. A lot of women say, “I don’t understand – I’m making all the money, but I’m also responsible for the kids, overseeing the nanny, the homework, scheduling the housekeeper … I’m doing everything!” But it’s not because they married a bad guy. It could be because they’re control freaks, which is why they’re the primary breadwinners in the first place. Or because they have now enabled their spouse so much that he’s like, “This is a great gig. I’m never going back to work. And I’m really good at golf.”

When do you refuse to take a case?

If someone has unrealistic expectations – like, they want the kids 100% of the time “because he’s an asshole.” Or if a client wants to go public with things that I think are detrimental to the whole family. I’ll say, “I get it, it’s strategic, but in the long run, your kids can read, and it’s not going to help you.” I don’t feel comfortable when the desire to ruin the other person is so great.

I thought lawyers love to attack.

I know I have a reputation for being a pit bull, but really, I’m results oriented. What you want in a lawyer is someone who really tries to get it resolved out of court, but if it just can’t, then let’s go. Let’s go, and let’s crush.

Are you doing gay break-ups too?

Some, yes, but we don’t have gay marriage in California yet. You’d think we’d be the pioneers, but we’re more conservative than we like to think. Not me personally, I’m just an old hippie procreating with anyone who comes along!

You must learn a lot about human nature. What one lesson have you learned?

Be nice. People are so much nicer to those we don’t know than those we know really well. The fact is, you’re going to have to be at your kids Bar Mitzvah or high school graduation… You’re both scared. So tap into what it is you like about that person. Be nice. What could it hurt?

Can we expect a reality show about your life?

I have been approached, but honestly, I have no desire to be a celebrity. I like my anonymity. And I like being a lawyer.

What’s this about a book?

It’s coming out next fall on St. Martin’s Press. It’s about how our generation is so jazzed about how the family has evolved – with same sex marriages, parents who are not married, people who have surrogates live in their back house… But what happens when these relationships end? This book is about how to keep your sanity and your finances.

So you’re giving away advice that people pay you top dollar for?

I’m happy to do it. I’m trying to educate people that if you have a family, keep your kids emotionally sound and keep your bank account intact, don’t spend it all on fighting. I was saying to someone the other day, “You’re arguing about school tuition, but this argument you’re having? You just spent school tuition!”

I thought the more money they spend fighting, the better it is for you.

No, I want to help people get past all that and get on with their lives. Then I can move on to the next case.

Divorce booming in this recession, then?

Oh I have plenty of clients, and I can’t get to all of them.

Nobody wants to find my card in their spouse’s wallet.Laura Wasser

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