To borrow an expression from Britney Spears, the most high-profile celebrity divorce of the year may prove to be a media “circus.”
Earlier this week, Spears’ husband of 14 months, personal trainer and fitness model Sam Asghari, filed for divorce from the pop star, citing irreconcilable differences. While Asghari made an appeal for gentle treatment—“asking for privacy seems rediculous [sic] so I will just ask for everyone including media to be kind and thoughtful,” he wrote on Instagram—it’s a foregone conclusion that the lawyers retained by the former spouses will be anything but laissez-faire in the legal fight to come.
The swords have already been drawn, at least on Asghari’s side. According to divorce papers obtained by The Daily Beast, he’s asking for attorney fee coverage and spousal support from Spears. The papers also stress that he “has yet to determine the full nature and extent of the separate property assets and obligations of each party,” and that there are “various items of community and quasi-community assets and debts, the full nature and extent of which are unknown to [Asghari] at this time.”
In other words, Asghari seems to be looking to subvert the prenuptial agreement he signed back when he and Spears got married; the agreement reportedly guarantees him nothing.
Moreover, according to TMZ, Asghari is telling anyone who will listen that his separation from Spears, listed on the divorce filing as July 28, was precipitated by the pop star cheating on him with male staffers in their shared home. TMZ has also reported that Spears and Asghari had a huge fight earlier this month, and that she has gotten physical during some of their past arguments.
With a possibly pugnacious legal battle to come, here’s a primer on the attorneys who will go to bat for Spears and Asghari.
In this corner: Neal Hersh, representing Asghari
According to divorce papers obtained by The Daily Beast, Asghari has enlisted the services of attorney Neal Hersh, a founding partner of the firm Hersh Mannis LLP, and one of L.A.’s “power lawyers,” according to The Hollywood Reporter.
Most Famous Client
Over his 40-plus-year career, Hersh has represented Pamela Anderson in her divorce from Kid Rock, and Halle Berry in her split from Eric Benet. But his most famous client is arguably Brad Pitt: Hersh repped the Oscar-winning actor in his headline-making divorce from fellow A-lister Jennifer Aniston in 2005. Ironically, Hersh’s legal partner, Joseph Mannis, would go on to represent Angelina Jolie in her divorce from Pitt.
Hersh is the longtime attorney of Kim Basinger, Alec Baldwin’s ex-wife. After the couple separated, Hersh was Basinger’s representative during a protracted custody battle over their daughter, Ireland. Hersh and Basinger scored a huge win in that tussle when Baldwin left an irate and now-infamous voicemail for Ireland in which he called his then-12-year-old daughter a “rude little pig” and Basinger “a thoughtless pain in the ass.”
The leverage that the voicemail afforded to Hersh and Basinger’s case eventually resulted in the actress being awarded joint custody. Baldwin, meanwhile, was ordered to attend anger management sessions.
What His Peers Say
“Neal, over his lifetime, has handled many celebrity divorces and is a very competent, skillful family law trial lawyer,” Steven Mindel, a Certified Family Law Specialist and an attorney at Feinberg, Mindel, Brandt & Klein in Los Angeles, told The Daily Beast. “In a case like this, where you have a very short-term marriage and probably a premarital agreement, it’s highly likely that Neal is going to want to take this outside of the public court system and go to some kind of privately compensated temporary judge situation, much like an arbitrator.”
“We’re like therapists a little,” Hersh told Vanity Fair in 2016. “Sometimes I just go home thinking, It’s stunning, what people tell me. It’s like they disrobe verbally in your office. People just say this, like it’s nothing, ‘Yeah, he likes to beat me,’ ‘He likes women’s clothes,’ ‘He likes this type of thing.’ One guy was talking to me about the size of his genitalia, because his wife was complaining it wasn’t big enough or something. Honestly, do I need to know this?”
And in this corner: Laura Wasser, representing Spears
Spears, unfortunately, is no stranger to broken marriages—the singer has been married and divorced twice in the past, first to Jason Alexander and then to Kevin Federline. For her impending scuffle with Asghari, Spears has reportedly re-enlisted the aid of attorney Laura Wasser, who previously repped Spears in her divorce from Federline in 2007. In that initial settlement, Spears and Federline were granted joint legal and physical custody over their two sons.
Wasser is arguably the most respected divorce attorney in Los Angeles and a figure of such high esteem that she’s become something of a celebrity herself. Nicknamed the “disso queen” (as in, the dissolution of marriage), she’s represented everyone from Johnny Depp to Angelina Jolie in their respective divorces; earned her own glowing profile in The New Yorker; and even reportedly served as the inspiration for Laura Dern’s no-nonsense divorce attorney character in the Noah Baumbach film Marriage Story. (Dern won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for the role).
Most Famous Client
Given that she’s represented so many A-listers, including Spears herself, it’s hard to pick a winner. But we’ll go with Kim Kardashian: Wasser was on the Calabasas Queen’s side during her high-profile split from ex-husband Kanye West. As part of that settlement, Ye agreed to pay a whopping $200,000 a month in child support.
Wasser is an advocate for keeping things as amicable as possible when shepherding clients through their divorces, so her biggest wins have more to do with equal happiness rather than slash-and-burn acrimony. The settlement amounts for all of her biggest cases are kept under wraps, but it’s safe to say her client list—which also includes Ryan Reynolds, Jennifer Garner, Christina Aguilera, and Heidi Klum—speaks for itself.
What Her Peers Say
“One of [Laura’s] first really, really big cases was for Stevie Wonder,” Mindel told The Daily Beast. “He never misses an opportunity to thank her for her caring and very understanding way that she managed his situation, so that’s Laura in a nutshell.”
“Laura, also, because of the nature of her client base, likes to use privately compensated temporary judges,” Mindel added. “So in this particular situation, since both Neal and Laura are most comfortable in that environment, you would anticipate that that’s where this is going to end up.”
“I say to clients all the time, the more you argue, the more conflict there is, the more I get paid,” Wasser told The New Yorker last year. “I drive a Porsche. I’m wearing Alaïa. I’m good. Let’s work this out and get you through this.”
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