Divorce in the Spotlight

Divorce is one of the most difficult things to face in your life. On the Life Change Index that ranks common stressors in life, divorce is the second highest item, falling only beneath the death of a spouse. Managing divorce is challenging for anyone, but it becomes particularly onerous when one or both spouses are public figures. 

When your personal problems are made public, it not only increases your stress, but it can also damage your brand and your public image. It is helpful to examine some recent celebrity divorces to examine how they navigated having the spotlight on their divorces. 

Kristen Cavallari and Jay Cutler

Kristen Cavallari and Jay Cutler

Cavallari, known for her roles on The Hills and Laguna Beach, married Cutler, a former Chicago Bears quarterback, in 2013 when they were both in their mid to late 20s. The relationship had some problems from the start, with Cavallari breaking off their engagement in 2011. The couple had three children together before ending their marriage in April 2020. After Cutler retired from football, Cavallari mentioned that they were having trouble adjusting, and reportedly there may have been tension since her career was still on the upswing. She went on to have three seasons of her own reality show (Very Cavallari) in which allegations of him cheating on her were discussed. 

Cutler and Cavallari faced the problem that more and more celebrities are coping with: to earn a living on reality television, you have to expose more of your family life than you might want to and if you experience marital problems, they are going to play out for the world to see. Perhaps the final nail in the coffin was the couple quarantining together in the Bahamas. Like many couples, this may have helped them realize they could no longer remain married.

While the couple seemed to limit their statements to the media, Cavallari allegedly made several statements in the public divorce papers that indicated the split was not amicable. In addition to listing irreconcilable differences, she also allegedly cited "inappropriate marital conduct," which cast blame on Cutler.

There are several things the couple has done well in their divorce and for their brands. They issued the usual statement about having love and respect for each other and asking for privacy, which is de rigeur in celebrity splits. Media sources report that the couple agreed to a joint custody arrangement with a nesting plan (with each spouse spending half of each week with the children at the marital home), so they have managed to find a way to parent together without creating a public custody trial. 

Cavallari did not renew her contract for her reality show, because, according to some sources, she did not want to explore the divorce on camera. This may make her an even more sought after commodity since someone will want to get her to share the details.

What they haven't done well is manage the rumor mill closely enough. There are many "sources" that shared inside information about the marriage, so much so that it is likely one or both wanted information leaked to the press to bolster their public images. The end result was that the divorce just looked messy. Additionally, Cavallari's divorce filing used language that could be considered inflammatory (referring to him as "manipulative and controlling") and seemed designed to paint Cutler in a negative light. This may have backfired, making her appear vindictive and damaging her brand. 

Kelly Clarkson and Brandon Blackstock

Kelly Clarkson and Brandon Blackstock

Clarkson and Blackstock met because he was the son of her manager. They began dating in 2012 and got married in 2013. The couple shares two children born into the marriage, and Blackstock has two children from a previous relationship. 

There had been no public reports of trouble in the marriage. However, Clarkson's career has been booming, with her seat on The Voice and her new talk show, The Kelly Clarkson Show, and this kind of public elevation can be challenging for a marriage. Clarkson filed for divorce on June 4, 2020, after the couple quarantined together in Montana with their children. Clarkson was working remotely, and reportedly the intensive time spent together made it clear to her that divorce was her only option. She posted on social media about how challenging it was to parent in quarantine while working.

So far, the Clarkson-Blackstock divorce has checked all the boxes for a by the books celebrity divorce. Clarkson filed based on irreconcilable differences, seeking joint custody and enforcement of their prenuptial agreement.  While the couple has not issued a joint statement about the divorce, Clarkson thanked Blackstock in social media posts after winning a Daytime Emmy. 

This enhanced her brand as the nice girl next door and downplayed the divorce. Additionally, the couple has kept all media leaks mostly positive, making their divorce feel amicable and low key. The only sign Clarkson has given that there might be tension was when she performed "Chain of Fools" on her talk show soon after the divorce filing. Even though this exposed a chink in the armor, it only served to elevate her in the eyes of her fans. 

Casey Musgraves and Ruston Kelly

Casey Musgraves and Ruston Kelly

After three years of marriage, the singer and her spouse announced they are divorcing on July 3, 2020. They issued a joint statement to the Associated Press saying all the right things and specifically saying they wanted to stop all media scrutiny of the divorce. The couples' marriage suffered several public downturns, such as when Musgraves brought someone other than Kelly to the Country Music Awards and a point when both removed wedding photos from Instagram.

However, those are the only public signs they have given about problems in their relationship. As is often the case, Musgraves’ career was bigger than Kelly's despite releasing an album together and working together on various projects. To date, the couple has kept the divorce amicable without any damage to either person's brand. 

Jennifer Grey and Clark Gregg

Jennifer Grey and Clark Gregg

Jennifer Grey, best known for her iconic role in Dirty Dancing, and her husband of 19 years announced on July 3, 2020, that they had separated in January and were divorcing. They issued an appropriate joint statement about the divorce. Separating first and waiting months to announce the divorce was a well-thought-out move. Additionally, choosing to announce on the Friday of a holiday weekend ensured that the news would quickly fade and not receive much attention. The couple shares one child, who recently graduated from high school, so there will be no custody or child support to work out in their divorce. Their divorce is a classic example of a well-played high visibility divorce. 

Celebrity divorces present many challenges, and it is essential to work with an attorney who understands the nuances and can protect your brand(s). Celebrity divorce is about more than the legal issues. It's also about messaging, brand direction, and reputation. A celebrity divorce can be handled quietly and carefully without damage to either person's public image. 


Dror Bikel

Dror Bikel co-founded Bikel Rosenthal & Schanfield, New York’s best known firm for high-conflict matrimonial disputes. A New York Superlawyer℠ and twice recognized (2020 and 2021) New York Divorce Trial Lawyer of the Year, Dror’s reputation as a fearsome advocate in difficult custody and divorce disputes has led him to deliver solid outcomes in some of New York’s most complex family law trials. Attorney Bikel is a frequent commentator on high profile divorces for national and international media outlets. His book The 1% Divorce - When Titans Clash was a 5-category Amazon bestseller.

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