Patt Morrison Asks: Breakup artist Laura Wasser

One of the city's foremost divorce attorneys stipulates to her thoughts on capital-D divorce in the capital of celebrity.

Seriously? Someone in L.A. who doesn't want to show up on TV?

One of the city's foremost divorce attorneys won't say word one about her client Maria Shriver's divorce from Arnold Schwarzenegger. It is probably Laura Wasser's highest-profile case, which is saying something, considering her client list includes Angelina Jolie, Britney Spears and Mrs. Mel Gibson. Her services will run you $750 an hour -- unless you're a client at the nonprofit Harriett Buhai Center for Family Law, which serves poor, abused women, and where Wasser volunteers. With the definition of family now as elastic as the cord on an accordion-style legal file -- Wasser herself has a live-in beau and two children; she's shown here with the younger, Jack -- she stipulates to her thoughts on capital-D divorce in the capital of celebrity.

You were a baby when no-fault divorce came to California in 1969. People no longer had to prove cruelty, desertion or adultery to get divorced. It radically changed family law.

Interesting, isn't it? Almost all of the states now are no-fault. In this day and age, with Photoshop, it would be really difficult to have fault because the evidence [could] be doctored. It makes more sense to have no fault. My clients may have myriad complaints about their spouses, and I say: That may be the case, but it's completely irrelevant to our case. Unless we're talking about serious drug, alcohol or abuse, it's not going to affect anything having to do with custody either. He or she can be a complete jerk and is still going to be able to be a parent to your children.

Before no-fault there was "Divorce Court"-style melodramatic testimony, the juicy details of marital discord.

You'll still hear these things because people need to vent. But it doesn't matter [legally]. Can it shape a judge's opinion about the person being discussed? Yes. Should it? No. Add the third facet, which is media; you certainly have cases very much in the limelight.

To paraphrase Diana, the Princess of Wales, there are three in those divorces: wife, husband and the paparazzi.

I've had debates with people in your industry about the public benefit to find[ing] out private information about an individual going through a divorce. I'm a huge proponent of the 1st Amendment, but why should that be available? Normal average Joes who get divorced don't have E! Entertainment or CNN reporting on [their] divorce. If I had my druthers, I would make marital filings sealed, as paternity filings are sealed in California.

You also seem to put a premium on keeping your own low profile.

I don't think it's fair to make the worst time of somebody else's life a kind of career booster. When some people hire me, maybe that's not the primary reason, but it definitely might be in the top five.

So we won't see you at the microphone like, say, Gloria Allred?

You absolutely never ever will.

What do you think about movements to make it harder to get married, or to make marriage a renewable contract?

Generally I don't believe the government should have that paternalistic a [role] in our relationships. That having been said, in "Parenthood," Keanu Reeves says you need a license to have a dog, even a license to fish, but any [jerk] can become a father. Or get married.

Maybe there should be a couple of hoops to jump through -- not governmental hoops, but something so a week later you don't wake up and go, "Wait, who are you?"

Divorce rates went up after no-fault. Is that good or bad?

I'm not going to say divorce is good, but you don't see people staying in unhappy marriages as much as you did. They realize that it may be better for their children to see what a happy parent looks like rather than miserable parents under the same roof. Being able to solve that problem, and then moving [clients] on to a new situation, is what gets me through; it makes me like my job.

It's assumed that in no-fault divorce, women get the short end of the financial stick.

In the last 10 years, I've seen more cases where, if there were fault, it would be detrimental to the women. We may have a skewed understanding of who's having extracurricular affairs. I'm representing husbands making enough money to be paying the rates our firm charges, and the husband says, "How did this happen? I'm working my butt off so we can go on the trips to Aspen and she can drive the nice car and go to yoga and get the Botox, and then she's sleeping with the tennis coach!" I'm seeing much less contrition with women.

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