Welcome to another episode of the exEXPERTS DIVORCE etc… Podcast where we give you all kinds of information and tips on everything divorce. Why? We’ve lived it, so we get it! We’re T.H. & Jessica.
Jessica: Welcome to today’s episode of the Divorce etc podcast. We are thrilled to have with us Christopher Melcher, a celebrity divorce attorney, and legal commentator out of LA, who handles some extremely high-profile cases. It’s the kind of stuff that we are all reading about all the time. We love what we have read and heard about him so we wanted to have him on the show to actually talk about some stuff that we do love hearing about when it comes to celebrity divorces, but to really relate that back to what are the similarities and differences that those of us, us mortal people, are actually going through when it comes to divorce, and what we should believe or not believe when it comes to all of that stuff. So, Christopher, thank you so much for taking the time with us today.
Christopher: Well, thanks, Jessica, for having me. I appreciate what you’re doing with the show to really empower and educate people to go through what’s a very, very scary time in their life. I love all the resources that you assembled. And I’m hoping we’re going to provide some tips here that people are going to take away from in their non-celebrity cases.
Jessica: That’s right. That’s right.
T.H.: Yeah, I mean, when we go to whatever store and you see all the magazines with Reese Witherspoon getting a divorce, or Kim’s finally revealing the secrets about Kanye, or whatever, I mean, that’s all bullshit, right? Let’s just put it out there right now. Everybody knows that even though you’re enticed, it’s not really real.
Christopher: Well, there’s probably a kernel of truth around all that stuff. I think in representing a lot of celebrities, what I’ve learned is that we’re all people. We all hurt the same as anybody else. We have the same problems that everybody else has. Now, of course, celebrities, have a completely different set of concerns. They also have a PR team around them that’s very skilled and so they’re going to message this and navigate through the divorce in a way that the rest of us don’t have to because no one is paying attention to our divorce. But in a celebrity case, they are, and they’re watching every move. Those people need to protect their brand because they need to come out of this thing through the other end with a career.
T.H.: Jessica and I talk about it a lot. I mean, we talk about how it’s difficult because your whole life and all the lies are put out there about you, you take it–I mean I would take it personally. And then, plus, you don’t want lies being put out there about you. It’s hard to keep it quiet. It’s hard to keep your life private, I guess. But you said something to us just before we started recording. You said you actually make more money on the lesser-known name high profile–
Jessica: Or no name.
T.H.: Yeah, divorces than a Kanye type of divorce?
Christopher: Well, so that’s the other thing that I learned and we can all look at is that most celebrity divorce cases are resolved very quickly without a fight. Then I’ll see other people who are very wealthy that we’ve never heard about, or people without a whole lot of assets, spending everything that they have fighting. And so that got me thinking about, well, can we learn from these celebrity cases? The reason why the celebs generally don’t fight, especially if it’s celeb on celeb divorce, is mutual destruction. They’re going to destroy their brands. They’re not going to be coming out of this on the other end very well so they have to–absent like a Brad/Angelina-type story, that’s very unusual. In most of these cases you see the conscious uncoupling, we’re leaving his friends, all this stuff that even it’s probably not true, but they just need to get through this thing. We can learn from that because it is possible. It is possible to hate somebody, not trust them, and still make a deal with them. Most of my cases in the celeb cases are resolved pretty quickly without a lot of fighting, and that’s why I don’t make that much money on those cases. I’m very happy for those folks. The other ones that I’m confused about are like, why are we fighting? Because most of this stuff, I can tell people how it’s going to turn out.
Jessica: So what do you find to be the most challenging when it comes to divorce cases like that? I mean, we’ve spoken to a lot of divorce attorneys and it seems like nowadays, which is a nice thing to hear, that most divorce lawyers are looking for, if not amicable, that may not be the right word, but some kind of an amicable resolution. They’re not looking to drag it out so that they can squeeze out every penny from their clients, despite what a lot of people think when it comes to lawyers, that they’re all just money-hungry. But when you have clients, regular people because again, I think our problems are to some degree on a different level than celebrities, who are fighting about stuff that you’re like, this is so fucking dumb, and this is going to cost you so much money, what do you think those biggest challenges are? And why can’t they hear you?
Christopher: The biggest challenge is that there’s a lot of messed-up divorce lawyers out there. I’d love to think that they were really good professionals out there, but they’re hard to find. What happens is that us as the consumer, the client, a lot of times pick a lawyer like you pick your dog. If somebody wants to match your personality, and you’re thinking like, wow, I’m scared, I need to fight, so I’m going to hire the most aggressive, nastiest lawyer. No, that’s the worst pick. You want somebody who’s going to tell you that you’re wrong, and tell you to keep the emotions at the door, to focus on the deal, get in, and get out. Yes, you want to understand your rights and make sure you’re protected, but you don’t want a cheerleader and you don’t want the pit bull. Those people will destroy you. But we don’t know that because a lot of times we’ve never picked a lawyer before. We just think intuitively I want the most aggressive. Well, the most aggressive is the one who’s going to fight, put fuel on the fire, and basically run up the fees unnecessarily. A lot of times, those lawyers that are the pit bulls are doing so because they’re inadequate. That is the way that they get by is to bully people and be nasty. Eventually, the case just resolves itself because nobody can handle that. When it comes to actually go to court, they’re horrible lawyers. It’s just compensation for being a really bad lawyer. One client who had a really nice compliment for me was that I’m all bite no bark. And that’s the kind of lawyer you want, I think.
T.H.: Wow, I just really need to stop for a minute because of how I wish I knew you back then. I did hire someone, and it was out of fear of the unknown of what was going on. My husband was cheating on me but also had a significant shift in financial positioning, which obviously was planned once everything was found out. I had a lot of research to do. But my lawyer did not tell me I was wrong. She let me go on and on like a therapist. I know now through all the multiple interviews we’ve done of all the mistakes that I made with her. I hope everybody really listens to what Christopher just said if you’re in the process and if you’re thinking about it. The attorney works for you. And Jessica and I actually just spoke with someone in business who called us out on our shit. We really appreciate that.
Jessica: Right. That’s the kind of person we want to work with.
T.H.: Otherwise, you just listen to your own self. I don’t need to pay somebody else to continue to listen to the stuff that’s in my head. I need someone to call me out so that you don’t make mistakes. It’s in your best interest to have a positive outcome. So really, that was really, really valuable information for everybody.
Jessica: I also think that when we read about celebrity divorces, let’s just say Brad and Angelina, for example, because, I mean, it’s been I don’t know how many years, probably at least more than five at this point that they’ve been fighting it out. It seems like in the reports I read, certain aspects of the divorce have been settled, but they can’t figure out custody issues. When you read things like that, if you’ve never been divorced, if you’re about to go through the process, I think that would scare someone like, oh my god, what if I get caught in a battle like this? I can’t afford it. Mentally, emotionally, literally, I can’t afford it. What do you think that people need to know what they should focus on and not be scared of or intimidated by just because they read it in the press?
Christopher: Yeah, it’s very scary to think that your right to see your child or children could be taken away or limited. It’s terrifying. But that’s what could happen in divorce court. What we’re seeing in cases like Brangelina is a very odd case. They did resolve the financial issues. Those oftentimes are easier because we can kind of bracket that and say, hey, best case, you’re going to get X, and worst case, you’re going to get Y, and it’s going to cost you Z amount of dollars to get there. Most people can make that calculation and say this isn’t worth it, this is a good deal. But with kids, you can’t put a price on that. There’s also some education that needs to go around it. And especially like in Brangelina, she’s saying, well, hey, something happened on this plane in 2015. And it’s like, okay, but then Brad went and did a lot of things that he’s saying, okay, I’ll be supervised with my visitation. Or my visitation will be very limited. I’ll go to these classes. I’ll comply with whatever you want me to comply with. And at some point, the attorney needs to go to Angelina saying, hey, unless you’ve got something else unless something else recent happened, you’ve got to let this go and move on. He’s the dad. That’s what the judge was saying to her, Judge Ouderkirk, and then she eventually had him removed. Now we’re in some limbo state where maybe she’s going to continue fighting. One child’s already past the age of 18, where the court doesn’t have authority. Unfortunately, that’s maybe how this case gets resolved as the kids just age out. And so there’s definitely a lesson to be learned there that allegations of physical abuse, or verbal abuse, all that stuff needs to be taken very seriously, and we need to protect kids from it. But we also have to look at the big picture. Here’s one of the challenges that I have for clients is they’ll say, I’m not going to agree to equal–Dad wants 50/50 custody time. I don’t want that. Okay, well, what plan do you want? Well, I think he should have every other weekend because he’s abusive. Well, if he’s abusive, why would you want him involved in the child’s life [at all] for the moment? Why is it okay for two days a week but not three and a half days a week? So there are some logical things. Again, I’m not trying to be critical of my clients, but I’m really trying to understand this journey together and go through it. It’s like, okay, well, is that really the issue? Or is there some other issue that I don’t know about? Because I can’t serve you unless I understand really what’s the source of this problem? And so that’s the kind of critical thinking that we need to go through. But most lawyers say, oh yeah, abusive? Oh, yeah, sure, he should only have other every other weekend. Then you build up this big case of $50,000 worth of legal work and go in front of the judge, and the judge is like, well, that doesn’t make any sense. You think this guy’s abusive, but you’re going to give him two overnights a week without supervision?
Jessica: Yeah, it sounds crazy. It seems when most celebrities are splitting up and getting divorced, they’re all putting out a statement that literally is the same template for everyone. ‘We really respect each other. We really love each other. We’ve decided to part ways amicably and continue to be friends.’ Do you feel when we read that, is it literally as rote as we all think it is? Or most of the time is that being genuine and sincere?
Christopher: Oh, it’s disgustingly sweet. I don’t like that. I think people would just be like, yeah, we hate each other. I would just admit to it, okay, and I think it would be more refreshing. We do see those cases, kind of those statements, but to me, obviously, they don’t feel that way because they’re getting divorced. And so I think it’s just mostly trying to buy their privacy saying, hey, nothing to see here. Everything’s good. Let’s move on.
Jessica: As everything’s exploding behind them.
Christopher: Yeah, it has to be. I think that the harder cases are not the celeb on celeb, the power couple, it’s the celeb versus non-celeb because then the non-celeb partner has nothing to lose and everything to gain by having this thing go out longer and basically roasting their partner and saying like, hey, well, maybe we will go to trial. Maybe I will talk about this. Maybe I will make these allegations. It’s essentially a shakedown. Those are the ones to watch and that are more interesting. But the power couples, absent Brangelina, it’s hard to come up with a lot of cases where the laundry was aired.
Jessica: Except for Johnny Depp and Amber Heard. Like, what is going on there?
Christopher: Yeah, that one. You have two people there that have their struggles that couldn’t get control over this. And so yes, that is another excellent example.
Jessica: I was going to say do you feel like there is more, for lack of a better word, opportunity, when it’s a high profile name for someone to start putting out accusations of domestic abuse and things like that, even if it’s not true? I mean, T.H. and I hear about that kind of stuff all the time with regular people.
T.H.: Yeah, setting up the spouse and–
Jessica: I hate to say it, but I think more often than not, it’s the woman setting up the man and the police will end up having to be called and now it’s like, there you go. There’s something on his record. He was taken away for whatever reason. Now that’s going to be a problem in the divorce. Is that a higher risk in celebrity divorces?
Christopher: Well, it is a risk in all cases, but particularly in celeb cases, because people are following it. Then there are downstream consequences. It’s not just like, oh, I know something about this person that’s embarrassing, and I’m going to go and report it to get revenge. Well, that then may result in that person being fired. If they work for a professional sports team, you may see them being separated and not picked up again. If they’re an actor or whatever, they’re not going to get jobs, and now they are not going to be able to pay support.
T.H.: Right, that affects the whole family, it’s so–
Christopher: It does. Now, certainly, if somebody is abusive, they do need to be exposed because otherwise we’re just covering and enabling that behavior to happen so they could hurt other people. I’m in no way advocating keeping that type of stuff quiet. But if it’s just the laundry, the embarrassing facts, we do see those being used usually in a letter or some form of mediation, some kind of private setting, hey, I have this. It is extortion a bit. Sometimes we’ll see the other person come out publicly with it in a court document. It’s like, hey, you just shot your bullet. Sometimes it’s just quiet and the press doesn’t pick it up. No one got fired. No one lost any jobs. It’s like, okay, well, now you have nothing over me anymore. It does have to be handled delicately.
Jessica: Are there reporters that just literally are camped out at the Los Angeles County Courthouse just reading through all of the public divorce documents every day to get those kinds of tidbits and air them?
Christopher: Well, I don’t know that they need to because I think that the attorneys leak this stuff. I don’t. I don’t leak because I’m usually representing the celebrity so I’m not authorized to speak, and they have their own team. My job is to keep it quiet, right? I mean, I’m guarding the fort. But the other side is trying to get this stuff out there. I will read sometimes about my own case in TMZ before I–it’s like, oh, something was filed? Oh, I’m just seeing it in TMZ. I’m supposed to be getting served with this document. Then when you see it, one of the tips for you to see as the public whether this was leaked or not, if it’s a file document, it’s typically going to have court markings. It’s going to be stamped, what we call conformed. A lot of times these leaked documents aren’t conformed. That means they’re pre-filed documents. Who has that? – The attorney, is the only person who has that because if it was a court leak, it would have the stamp on it. The attorneys do that. And the other way to see that is there’s some kind of unwritten payoff sometimes with the reporters where the attorney will be named in the story. Oh, according to powerhouse attorney, so and so, blah, blah, blah. Well, that’s probably your leaker because that was the unwritten exchange.
T.H.: Right. Wow, that’s really shitty. Like it’s not complicated enough? What do you think about, coming through COVID, or still someone in COVID, what’s the biggest difference you’ve seen as far as divorce pre-COVID and now where we are now? I mean, we’ve been through Zoom divorces. There’s a lot of perspective on that, but any big differences and the types of cases that are coming to you? Or is it still the same?
Christopher: Well, I think we’re getting back to normal. It was a really bad place that we were in when the courts locked down or went to limited operations because it was already hard enough to get your day in court or a hearing date. It was very long delays. Then they created this huge backlog when the courts were essentially closed or limited, where you couldn’t even get into court. It was a Wild West at that point, people just saying, I’m not doing the exchange. I’m not paying you money. Nothing. Then we got through that. Now they’re working through the backlogs. I think the best thing out of all this is the video court appearances that many courts have adopted. Because before, when you have to hire a lawyer, this is extraordinarily expensive to hire these lawyers to come into court and we would sit there. We’d have to drive, and for me, it’s an hour to get to court each way. And then I’d sit there for hours waiting for the case to be called all for a 15-minute hearing. And I’m charging my client five hours for 15 minutes of work. Now with video, I don’t charge any of that other than the 15 minutes that I’m on with the judge. And so this is now really an access to justice issue which allows people to afford a lawyer to do the work they’re doing. They should not be paying me my hourly rate to drive a car into court or sit in a courtroom. The good thing that came out of the lockdowns was video, and I’m hoping that these courts continue investing in that technology. I’m also hoping that parties and attorneys will continue using that system. My fear is that people want the in-person advantage like: no, no, I want you to go in person. Well, if the other side’s in person, then I’ve got to go in person, and then we just lose the whole thing because I love sitting in my office just doing the Zoom court appearances.
T.H.: Do you think it’s more amicable on Zoom? Do you think that there’s less contention? I mean, is it easier to manage your clients and relationships in court if it’s on Zoom?
Christopher: Well, it’s a great point, because especially with depositions, these compelled statements under oath, they get pretty heated when you’re in person. And so it’s a little hard to scream at the little–I do it sometimes. I lose my mind. But it’s pretty hard to scream at–it’s like a screen. Like, what are you screaming at?
T.H.: It’s like you’re yelling at yourself.
Christopher: Yeah. You kind of see like, wow, this is ridiculous. It does definitely bring the temperature down. It’s a safer spot too. So if we do have an abusive spouse or partner that we’re dealing with, well, now you’re not sitting there within feet of this person, or worse, worrying about getting attacked on the way out of the courtroom. It’s safer for those folks. A little bit of a risk though is that the relationship between the client and the attorney is harmed a bit because when you’re in person, you can whisper, you could talk, you could trade notes, you see people, and you read the body language. Sometimes we’re having trouble with the clients logging on and they can’t hear, or they don’t mute themselves and they’re just like, ‘That’s a lie! I can’t believe it. You need to stop this!’ It’s like, oh my god. I can’t believe you’re saying this in front of the judge. We still need to work through some stuff.
Jessica: But I feel what I’m hearing you say is anyone who’s out there who’s been thinking about not being happy in their marriage, and has been thinking about the possibility of getting divorced, now’s the time to do it because it’s going to cost you the least amount ever in history because you’re not going to have your lawyer waiting at the courthouse all day. You’re only going to be paying for that billable time that they’re on your Zoom. It’s the most cost-effective, budget-friendly divorce environment ever.
Christopher: Well, it is, and especially with home values being high, this is a great time to be divorced. You’re being bought out at the highest values of everything. But I honestly, joking aside, I hate divorce, and I wish people would find a way to work things out. I wish I would put myself out of business if I had a wish.
Jessica: Can I just ask you then as we wrap up, what made you go into matrimonial law and family law, to begin with when you first started out?
Christopher: You know that wasn’t my intention. I wanted to do corporate securities law. But when I got out, there was no hiring. The economy was bad, and I kind of was doing criminal defense and some civil litigation. I met this other lawyer who was doing divorce work, and I never thought I would do that, but I saw that, wow, this is a legitimate specialization that you’re involved in people’s very personal affairs and is super interesting. We never get bored as a divorce lawyer. I thought I’m so happy that I made this choice and that I’m able to assist people in going through not only the legal and financial aspects of it, but also to really understand what their needs are, and moving them out of that point in their life to a better place. It’s a really rewarding profession. But like I say, it’s sad to see the conflict and the inability that a lot of us have in navigating through that. Because again, we’ve never been through that, and it’s very scary. We’re not born with those skills. I enjoy helping people separate fact versus fiction, emotion versus logic, money versus not and moving them forward with this in a way that I’m hoping they have a better outcome.
T.H.: I think you set a really great standard [totally] for anybody looking to go into this because there are a lot of lawyers. I mean, I live in New Jersey. I live in northern Jersey, and our lawyers were sharks and bulldogs. They were all built-in and you could just leave them alone together. They didn’t even need us. And so really, I mean, I think that that’s a great ability to contribute to the practice of law. We’ve talked so many times to other attorneys about the laws being outdated in terms of domestic abuse and so many other things. To have someone who’s cutting through the clutter and delivering a message the way you deliver the message is great because somebody else who’s coming from a negative place could say the same words, and it’s just not the same with their voice behind it. The energy isn’t good. I really appreciate you elevating the experience of divorce in a way that I certainly didn’t experience myself. You are making a very positive contribution, so thank you for that.
Christopher: Well, thank you.
Jessica: We do always talk about how the relationship going through a divorce between the client and the lawyer is one of the most intimate relationships you’ll ever have in your life. Because when you think about it, who else in your life that you come in contact with are you literally opening up your guts about everything that’s going on? I mean, this is a person you have to tell your deep, dark secrets to?
T.H.: Right, they have to know everything.
Jessica: And it has to be someone that you have that level of respect and compassion with and have that vibe. There’s a lot that goes into, I think, the partnership of a client and a lawyer in the divorce process. And so I think that what T.H. just said is totally right, like elevating the standard of expectations. Because I think that over so many years, people have this negative view of lawyers. My dad’s a doctor so we always heard all of the anti-lawyer jokes. Then my sister went to law school so then they were always telling each other the doctor and the lawyer jokes. But it’s true, it’s like, unfortunately, divorce lawyers, I think, get a particularly shit end of the stick. But it’s such an important part of our lives that’s going to not only affect what’s happening at the moment now during the divorce, but the decisions that we make together, client and lawyer, that’s going to have an impact on my life forever with my kids.
Jessica: And I think that a lot of people don’t have the foresight to look ahead and think about the maximum amount of impact this is going to have. They’re just trying to get through the next court appearance.
T.H.: Right, I mean, we’re 13 years out, and I have stuff creeping up on me now that should have been addressed. But my kids were eight, six, and four. Now they’re 22, 20, and 17. And guess what, who’s paying for them out of college? I mean, you think their salaries support them out of college? Living at home is fine, but you need a car. You need car insurance. There are things that don’t get addressed when they were little, little kids. So yeah, there’s a lot. There’s a lot to unpack. But to have someone like you on their team is really good. I think this is a PSA for new attorneys and for people going through a divorce. This is your public service announcement. Congratulations. You’re welcome.
Jessica: Well, thank you so much for taking the time with us today. We really do appreciate it. We’d love to have you back. We have so many other topics legal that I think your perspective would be really interesting and appreciated. I hope that you will join us again. And thank you everyone for listening. We’ll see you next time.
T.H.: Thank you.
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