SAN DIEGO, September 29, 2011 – Most people think the glue that holds a marriage together is love. As a family law attorney who has looked at the intimate details of hundreds of marriages and partnerships ending in divorce, this is not the case.
Marriage is all about trust and communication. Without trust, neither partner in the marriage feels on solid ground. As if balancing on a ball, the slightest negative burst of wind can knock a person over. Without communication, both partners are making judgments based on false information, or no information at all.
When a marriage turns out to be based on lies, it is almost always doomed. If one spouse commits adultery, it is the lying and deception involved that destroys the marriage. As they say, the cover-up can be worse than the crime.
This is why the fallout from the Arnold Schwarzenegger and Maria Shriver marriage has been so severe.
Not only did Shriver discover her husband of 25 years had been unfaithful to her, she discovered he had hidden this fact for 10 out of the 25 years of their marriage, and he had help doing so. This is forty percent of the time they have been a married couple; forty percent of their very public married life together has been an outright lie.
We can’t help but be fascinated by it. Arnold and Maria are as close as America gets to royalty. He’s a self-made superstar in sports, business, entertainment and politics. She is a Kennedy, a broadcast news personality, and the most popular California First Lady ever.
Now we hear Arnold has a deal with Simon & Schuster to publish his memoir in October 2012. No doubt it will sell and make a lot of money for everyone involved. Arnold will get to make the rounds of the talk show circuit. I wonder what exactly what he wants to reveal about his past we don’t already know.
The clock is now ticking. This divorce needs to be final before publication of this book, for the sake of their family.
These are real people with real problems. A family and children are being torn apart in the public eye. It is easy fodder for jokes but not to them. Going through a divorce or dissolving a longtime partnership can be the most traumatic experience someone will ever face, often more difficult than dealing with the death of a loved one.
Schwarzenegger clearly has moved on, making celebrity appearances, planning production of new feature films, and working on that book. The news website TMZ.com published a photo of Arnold wearing a t-shirt in questionable taste at best. He may find it funny, but it’s just plain mean.
Shriver is in a more difficult place. Both of her parents have died within the last year. She’s been candid she is not sure what is next for her, although it sure looks like her pal Oprah has plans for her. It might be the perfect sympathetic environment with an audience of “you go girl!” women to support her in the aftermath.
My job as a family law attorney is to make the hard parts of the process simple from a legal standpoint, and provide the best advice possible to help an individual make the decisions that are right for them and their family.
If either Arnold or Maria came through my door tomorrow, this is what I would do for them.
How much did Shriver know? Did she know about the infidelity, but not the existence of the child? Without knowing about the child, had she decided either for the sake of their public life or their children to tolerate it and look the other way?
Apparently there was no prenuptial agreement put into place before Schwarzenegger and Shriver got married. They both came into the marriage with considerable assets. She’s reportedly worth $100 million and him $400 million. Any settlement would have been a lot less messy with a solid prenup. If the couple can at least present a united front regarding the welfare of their children, everything else goes much more easily. Their children are their most important asset.
The most difficult part now comes with the discovery of a half-sibling. Was there a confidential support agreement drawn up for this child so that Schwarzenegger provided for him? Were community funds from the marriage used? Is the community estate entitled to reimbursement of the money spent? It appears a home was purchased in the past year for the mother and her son. Where did that money come from for the purchase?
All of these children are the true victims. They must be mortified to find out they have a half sibling, and realize the betrayal their father has committed against their mother. Worse yet, it happened with someone they know who has been in their own home. Arnold’s young son has also found out the truth about his father, and whoever he believed was his father is not anymore. The poor kid could end up finding the cure for cancer but he’ll be tagged forever with the label “Arnold’s love child.”
If asked, I would recommend therapy in the strongest possible terms for all these kids who have been lied to.
These two people are as well known as public figures get, with worldwide headline coverage of their situation. They need to do whatever it takes to keep their private lives private in this matter if they wish to avoid a long, expensive, damaging divorce.
Private mediation or confidential judicial arbitration is the way to go and it appears they are doing this. It should be handled as swiftly as possible. I urge them both not to sweat the small stuff, make it as quick and clean as possible. I give this advice to most of my clients, as long as there is no abuse or dangerous behavior involved in the marriage.
While many people are quick to place all the blame on Schwarzenegger, I am dismayed there seems to be little blame on the mother of the child, who is likewise culpable. It takes two to tango. She will be judged in the court of public opinion.
Whether or not you are a celebrity, everyone going through a divorce needs to know that it’s going to get worse before it’s going to get better. But it will get better. From there, you can face the reality of focusing on your own healing, and see yourself and your family through to a healthier, happier future.
Myra Chack Fleischer serves as Lead Counsel for Fleischer & Ravreby in Carlsbad, California with a focus on divorce, property, custody and support, settlement agreements, mediation, asset division and family law appeals. Read more Legally Speaking in Communities Digital News. Follow Myra on Twitter: @LawyerMyra.
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