Cruise and Holmes avoid court

The couple's settlement highlights privacy wishes

Published July 10, 2012 6:15AM (EDT)

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Only time will tell if the quick divorce settlement reached between Katie Holmes and Tom Cruise lasts longer than their five-year marriage.

It will need to, since the agreement will guide how the actors raise their 6-year-old daughter Suri for years to come. Yet major disputes could put the pair back in lawyers' offices and force them to enter a place they have successfully avoided so far — a courtroom.

The surprise announcement Monday that Holmes and Cruise had settled their divorce in less than two weeks ended what many expected to be a contentious breakup spanning both coasts.

Details of the agreement remain confidential and the pair released a joint statement indicating they intend to keep it that way.

"We want to keep matters affecting our family private and express our respect for each other's commitment to each of our respective beliefs and support each other's roles as parents," their statement said.

Had the divorce taken longer to resolve, many expected Cruise to try to move the case from New York to California, where he has ended his marriages to actresses Mimi Rogers and Nicole Kidman. Neither of those cases lasted very long, with Cruise finalizing his divorce from Rogers within 45 days; his divorce from Kidman took less than six months.

If Holmes and Cruise have a significant dispute about Suri's care or custody, a family law judge may have to resolve the dispute. Their divorce settlement could dictate that the dispute be heard in Los Angeles or it could remain in New York, said Steve Mindel, a divorce lawyer and partner in the Los Angeles firm Feinberg, Mindel, Brandt and Klein who has handled bi-coastal divorce cases.

"No doubt the settlement terms took into consideration where disputes are going to be settled," said Michael Kelly, a Santa Monica, Calif.-based divorce attorney who has handled numerous high-profile divorces and custody disputes.

He said, however, that settlements increasingly call for parties to go to mediation or appear before a private judge.

The actors employed attorneys on both coasts, with Cruise relying on California lawyers and Holmes opting for New York- and New Jersey-based attorneys.

Courts in both states can handle child custody disputes through sealed proceedings, and detailed arrangements are rarely filed publicly in the celebrity divorce hotbed of Los Angeles. In New York, family law cases are sealed unless there is a court order making them public although proceedings are public.

Disputes do arise, such as the battle between model Christie Brinkley and her former husband of a decade, Peter Cook. The pair engaged in a court trial over custody and property on New York's Long Island in 2008, reaching a settlement after days of testimony about Cook's affair with an 18-year-old girl. The pair has repeatedly returned to court after new disputes have emerged.

None of Cruise's divorces to date have been public spectacles and other top stars have managed to keep their parenting disputes largely out of open courtrooms. After the leak of a recording in which Alec Baldwin berated his daughter, most custody aspects involving his daughter with Kim Basinger have been handled through sealed proceedings.

The same occurred when Charlie Sheen and ex-wife Brooke Mueller sparred over custody in 2011 in the wake of the actor's public meltdown and questions about her sobriety. Allegations of physical abuse and threats by Sheen were contained in a restraining order application, but details of the couple's custody arrangements remain private.

"I don't think either of these high-profile celebrities want their dirty laundry aired in technically a public forum," said Russell I. Marnell, an East Meadow, N.Y.-based divorce lawyer who's also licensed in California. "Those kind of factors certainly would lend themselves to try to encourage a resolution."

Mindel agreed, but said, "The question's going to be —did they have enough time to flesh out how they're going to resolve future disputes?"

For now the focus of both stars appears to be to get their breakup out of the news. Holmes' attorney Jonathan Wolfe cast doubts Monday evening on stories speculating about what the couple traded to get such a quick resolution.

"There are numerous inaccuracies in the reports regarding the purported contents of the agreement reached between the parties," Wolfe wrote, adding that "its terms will not be disclosed."

Kelly said although it will become clear how the custody agreement is structured based on where Suri is seen spending her time, the public will probably never know its specifics or how it came together.

"Anything you (hear) past today is going to be complete speculation," Kelly said.


AP Entertainment Writer Jake Coyle and Associated Press Writer Jennifer Peltz in New York contributed to this report.



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