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Los Angeles Times, Published July 03 2012

Tom Cruise stands to gain if divorce case moves to California

LOS ANGELES — It would likely be in Tom Cruise’s interest to having his divorce proceedings with Katie Holmes moved from New York to California, legal experts said.

The experts said California divorce tends to allow more public disclosure than New York. But California courts also tend to favor joint custody in which both parents get a voice on how children are raised.

Lisa Helfend Meyer, a prominent Los Angeles family law attorney, said that as a result, it could make sense for Cruise’s legal team to seek a California hearing for the divorce case.

Holmes and Cruise live most of the time in California, the experts said, and that generally determines where a case is heard.

“There isn’t a snowball’s chance in hell of this case remaining in New York,” said Mike Kelly, a Santa Monica, Calif., divorce lawyer and former chairman of the American Bar custody committee. “You cannot shop jurisdictions in custody cases.”

A source familiar with the case told the Los Angeles Times there is hope a settlement can be reached without a court battle.

The source, who talked to the Times on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak on the case, said Scientology and what role it would play in the couple’s daughter Suri’s upbringing was a key factor in the split. Cruise is a prominent member of Scientology.

The source said the negotiations will probably center on a custody arrangement that would give both parents rights while also regulating the kind of Scientology teaching Suri, 6, is exposed to.

Meyer said it’s not uncommon for divorced parents to differ on the religious upbringing of their children.

She said it’s rare for a court to base a decision about custody on religious grounds.

“It has to affect a child physically or emotionally. (The religion) cannot just be different,” Meyer said.

Holmes filed court papers in New York. Neither she nor her attorneys has commented on the reasons for the split. Cruise was shooting a film in Iceland when the papers were filed.

Holmes, 33, has retained two prominent law firms that specialize in wealthy breakups. New York lawyer Allan E. Mayefsky has been involved in a number of acrimonious and headline-grabbing splits, including the divorces of model Christie Brinkley, TV anchor Joan Lunden and a Manhattan financier who was ordered to pay his ex-wife $44 million.

In addition, the “Dawson’s Creek” actress hired a New Jersey divorce lawyer, Jonathan Wolfe, whose website boasts of his prowess in “complex matrimonial matters” involving “leaders or the spouses of leaders” in business, entertainment and sports. He has written extensively about prenuptial agreements and ways to recover hidden assets in divorce proceedings.

In a statement, Wolfe called the divorce “a personal and private matter.”

“Katie’s primary concern remains, as it has always been, her daughter’s best interest,” the lawyer said.

Speculation about a prenuptial agreement began almost immediately after the couple’s engagement. Cruise already had two ex-wives in Hollywood — actresses Mimi Rogers and Nicole Kidman. He adopted two children with Kidman. His annual earnings — recently estimated by Forbes at $75 million — dwarf those of Holmes, whose father is a lawyer.

Asked whether there was a prenuptial agreement, Cruise’s longtime legal representative, Bert Fields, said: “I can’t comment on that. It will all come out.”

Celebrities who have filed for divorce in California have been subject to media scrutiny because of public records law. Court documents recently detailed the property and assets changing hands during Kobe Bryant’s divorce proceedings.

Before that, court papers revealed details about former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s divorce from Maria Shriver, including that Schwarzenegger did not want to pay spousal support to his wife of 25 years.