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.
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.
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.”