In high profile divorce news out of New York, actress Mary Kate Olsen made headlines this week when her request for an emergency filing for divorce from husband Olivier Sarkozy was denied by the New York courts.
The reason why Mary Kate can’t get file for divorce? Under New York’s COVID-19 shutdown, court clerks throughout the state are not accepting paper or e-filing of non-essential matters at this time. In New York, filing for a new divorce during Covid is considered a non-essential action. So despite Olsen’s emergency filing, her request was firmly denied by a judge.
Not only did this place Olsen in divorce limbo for now, but in filing for the emergency order, many extremely private details of Olsen’s martial demise became part of public record.
One public portion of her request stated: “I am petrified that my husband is trying to deprive me of the home we have lived in and if he is successful, I will not only lose my home but I risk losing my personal property as well.”
In other sections, Olsen indicated that was also concerned that Sarkozy would cancel her health and dental insurance.
Living through COVID-19 is difficult, and the situation in New York where the courts are closed just adds to the turmoil. [Please note that in New Jersey, the courts have remained open and you can file for divorce during lockdown.] But what may be most troubling about Mary Kate’s situation is the extreme breech of privacy that happened.
It didn’t have to be this way.
We asked our firm’s founder and managing partner, Bari Z. Weinberger to offer some tips on divorce privacy, based on her work with celebrity and other divorce clients. The following is what Bari had to say…
Expert tips on protecting divorce privacy
I represent many high-profile celebrities, business people and sports stars. As such, I understand how to keep divorce details private. Totally private. Even if the parties look like they are about to go to war, as in the recent case of Kristen Cavallari and Jay Cutler, and also potentially Mary Kate and Sarkozy, there are ways of taking the matter off-line and resolving. And it can be done without incessant media coverage of spats, filings, and intimate private details.
How can divorce privacy be protected, even during the COVID-19 lockdown? Here are some steps you can take:
Use out of court methods. Once the decision is made to divorce, spouses can start working quietly and often quickly, with the help of their attorneys, to reach the terms of their settlement without ever setting foot in a court house, and without officially filing for divorce. It is possible to have a martial settlement reached and agreed upon by both parties, and then go through the formalities of filing divorce paperwork and submitting the final settlement to the courts. (Your attorney can take care of this.) Public records do not include any of the privately agreed upon settlement terms. Ask your attorney about mediation or collaborative divorce to get this process started.
Put temporary agreements in place. Attorneys and spouses can work to put temporary agreements in place to protect each spouse’s interests and agree to certain ground rules during the time before the divorce. Again, by taking care of these matters out of court, there is no public record. If Mary Kate’s situation, it may be possible to work out a temporary solution with her husband to provide access to belongings and mutually agree to freeze access to martial assets until final decisions can be made during the divorce. The couple could make a temporary agreement for health insurance to continue uninterrupted until the divorce. If the couple had children, a temporary custody arrangement could be reached.
Pull out your prenup. It’s rumored that Olsen put in place an ironclad prenup before marrying Sarkozy. This will be an important document and road map for their divorce, and possibly lay the groundwork for a very quick and quiet divorce settlement. The terms of the prenup can be used to form the temporary agreements as well as the final settlement. In Mary Kate’s situation, hopefully her prenup provides clarity on who gets the prime martial residence which appears to be at issue. The prenup may even include privacy clauses, such as not speaking to the press about their marriage.
Carefully consider grounds for divorce when you do file. It appears that the courts in New York will be opening gradually as different regions begin loosening lockdown restrictions. It’s possible that within a few weeks, Mary Kate will be able to legally file court documents. When she does, hopefully her attorney steers her towards considering the grounds of “irreconcilable differences” as a good no-fault, all bases covered grounds (reason) for the divorce. Grounds for divorce is part of public court records, so the “catch all” grounds of irreconcilable differences can be a big help for privacy.
There are extra challenges when it comes to getting divorced during COVID, especially in states like New York. Keeping your privacy intact can be one way to reduce the stress, so I hope these tips were helpful to you.
Have questions about your divorce and filing? Want to learn more ways to protect your privacy? We can help. Schedule a free virtual consultation and talk to an attorney at no charge. (Phone or video virtual consults available — your choice.) Call us today at 888-888-0919, or please click the button below. We have attorneys licensed in New Jersey and New York.