What’s Wrong With Celebrity Divorce Lists?


By Joshua E. Stern

Every so often, a website or newspaper will post a list of the most expensive divorces.  There’s usually a picture, a two-sentence blurb about how long the couple were married and why they got divorced, and then an eye-popping figure.  Michael and Junita Jordan?  Their divorce cost $168 million.  What does that tell us?  Michael Jordan is rich.

As a family law attorney, these articles can be frustrating.  First, there’s the misuse of the word “cost.”  Did divorcing Juanita cost Michael $168 million?  No more so than marrying her.  The marital estate is typically divided in just proportions based on a variety of factors, but with the underlying assumption that each party made sacrifices during the marriage for the betterment of the relationship.  Juanita was caring for the couples’ property and children while Michael was working.  $168 million is a very large sum of money that is hard for most people to fathom, but it is also worth noting that Juanita made many sacrifices that helped Michael earn that money and still enjoy a full family life.  A divorce settlement should not be an expense for one party and a win for the other.  It should be an equitable division of the marital estate.

The second issue I have with these articles is that $168 million dollars was not what it “cost” Michael Jordan to get divorced.  That’s what he paid to Junita Jordan as part of their divorce settlement.  While it’s not disclosed, I sincerely doubt that Michael paid $168 million in attorneys’ fees.  I bet he didn’t spend $16.8 million on attorneys’ fees.  The cost of divorce is something that is far more interesting, but far more amorphous.  It includes attorneys’ fee and costs, lost wages due to court appearances, and any sort of changes in lifestyle that diminish a party’s earning capacity.  It’s far more interesting to read a list of divorces with the highest attorneys’ fees and what made them so expensive.

Last, divorce can be emotional, and not always negative.  Relationships end, people move on, and sometimes both people agree that a divorce is in everyone’s best interest.  Additionally, divorce settlements often require a little give and take.  It wouldn’t hurt to add a statement from the divorcing parties about their feelings on the settlement.  Does Michael feel like Juanita took the $168 million, or does he feel like it was the right thing to do?  Does Juanita feel like she could have been more aggressive valuing and dividing the marital assets, or does she think it’s in her best interest to move on?

The worst part about celebrity divorce lists?  Despite knowing better, and having my grievances, I still read them.

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