July 10, 2008 / 12:11 AM / 10 years ago

Sordid details on offer in celebrity divorce cases

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Former supermodel Christie Brinkley wanted the world to hear the sordid details of her New York divorce trial, and a Manhattan-based actress took to YouTube to tell the world about her failed marriage.

Christie Brinkley gestures to reporters during a break in her divorce trial against Peter Cook at New York State Supreme Court in Central Islip, New York, July 7, 2008. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

New York is the only U.S. state where parties in a contested divorce have to show fault in order to split. And battling spouses’ efforts to prove cruel or inhumane treatment, abandonment or infidelity have provided valuable fodder for tabloids, Web sites and television shows.

“It’s the ultimate evisceration of the public/private distinction,” said New York Law School professor Richard Sherwin, who writes about law and pop culture. “Everything that is private is now public.”

A media frenzy has surrounded the 54-year-old Brinkley’s divorce battle with her fourth husband, Peter Cook, 49, which offers talk of Cook’s cheating on his wife with an 18-year-old and alleged “addiction” to Internet pornography.

Brinkley, who wants full custody of the couple’s two children, aged 10 and 13, wanted details of her divorce to be public, even though a judge can make a hearing private if other factors outweigh free speech considerations.

“The field in which (celebrities) operate involves their own self-interest and unfortunately they’re not seeing how kids are injured in the process,” Sherwin said.

British actress Tricia Walsh Smith, 49, turned to YouTube to vent her anger when, she says, her millionaire Broadway producer husband threatened to leave her penniless. She says her online monologues have been viewed 4 million times.

She accuses husband Philip Smith, 76, of conspiring to evict her and says she discovered him hoarding the impotence drug Viagra and porn movies even though they never had sex.

Philip Smith is now divorcing her, claiming she engaged in spousal abuse by airing the YouTube videos.


State legislators routinely push for changes, and a bill to establish no-fault divorce in New York is under review. But women’s and religious groups have long succeeded in blocking a shift, and the bill’s sponsor, State Assemblywoman Amy Paulin, said she expects this year will be no different.

Proponents of the current law say that men who fear their infidelities may be aired publicly could be more willing to offer their wives favorable settlements.

“Divorce is a contract, as unsexy as that might sound. We need to have laws where women have a bargaining chip,” said Marcia Pappas, director of the New York arm of the National Organization of Women.

Some people provide details when they seek divorces even in states where they are not legally obliged to.

This week, Cynthia Rodriguez, 35, filed for divorce in Miami from her husband, New York Yankee Alex Rodriguez, 32, the world’s highest-paid baseball player.

Seeking custody of their two children and a large share of his assets, Cynthia Rodriguez cited her husband’s alleged infidelities in divorce papers.

The court filing followed media reports suggesting Rodriguez was involved with Madonna, 49. The pop star denied the claims and also knocked down rumors that her own marriage, to British director Guy Ritchie, 39, is on the rocks.

“I frankly have absolutely no idea why they are engaging the media like they are,” said celebrity divorce lawyer Brett Kimmel, who is representing U.S. rapper 50 Cent in a custody battle with his longtime girlfriend, Shaniqua Tompkins.

“I just don’t see an edge to be gained,” he said. “It’s a regrettable approach because I don’t think it garners a tremendous amount of sympathy with the person it matters to most — the judge.”

Editing by Patricia Zengerle

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