Will Katie Holmes and Tom Cruise’s Divorce Be a Public Battle?

Celebrity divorces are surefire headline-makers. Did the break-up involve scandal? Infidelity? Dozens of media outlets, and millions of fans, clamor to know — especially when the divorce involves one of the most famous A-list couples in Hollywood. So the question lingers: Just how public can we expect the (so far) very public break-up between Katie Holmes and Tom Cruise to be?


Immediately following the June 29 announcement that Holmes had filed papers, speculation ran rampant regarding what, if anything, we would learn about the dissolution of the marriage. Many outlets ran stories claiming Holmes had filed an emergency custody hearing in the attempt to use publicity to win sole custody of the couple’s 6-year-old daughter, Suri. The actress, however, filed an anonymous captions order. “The reports about an emergent filing last Friday are incorrect,” Holmes’ attorney Jonathan W. Wolfe tells Hollywood.com in a statement. “Other than her action for divorce, the only pending application filed by Ms. Holmes remains her request for an anonymous caption.”

In fact, it seems Holmes is actively seeking privacy. Chris Mancini, an attorney from Miami, Fla., explains that if the actress’ request is granted, her divorce papers would use initials instead of real names. It’s a move that would make any dirt-seeking reporter’s job much more difficult. “When you file an anonymous caption case, what you’re hoping is that people are not going to be given access to the files in a timely fashion so that the reporting that accompanies the divorce does not disrupt what the parties are trying to get done,” he says.

While this anonymous captions edit would protect Holmes and Cruise if the divorce is settled in New York, a relocation to California could make Holmes’ divorce much more difficult — and much more public. After all, anonymous captioning isn’t permitted in California. Still, there are ways of keeping a divorce quiet. “Celebrities will [try to] work it out between the lawyers,” says Gloria Allred, a Los Angeles-based attorney who has handled many high-profile cases. “Sometimes they will hire a private judge, a mediator, to try to work it out confidentially and privately. It usually results in a confidential settlement, in which neither party can discuss the settlement. Many celebrities are taking the alternative dispute resolution path.”

There are also ways Holmes and Cruise can actively avoid the press. “In certain cases, the parties themselves sign a non-disclosure agreement,” New York Matrimonial Attorney Sherri Donovan says. “And [in some cases], the judge will order a hush order that the parties and their attorney are not to speak to the press.”

The legal system is conscious of how divorce proceedings affect public image and a family, which is why celebrity divorce records are often sealed to protect the welfare of a couple’s young children. Any reporters hoping for salacious details surrounding Holmes’ and Cruise’s marriage will likely be disappointed, thanks to young Suri. “These custody records are supposed to be sealed,” says Donovan. “They are supposed to be kept confidential.” Mancini echoes Donovan: “That a sensitive age, so they have to keep an eye on what gets released.”

Young celebrity off-spring aren’t always so lucky. After Britney Spears’ split with Kevin Federline in 2006, fans saw much of the divorce played out on the pages of magazine covers, with details about visitation rights surrounding their two children, Sean and Jayden James, making headlines. But reporters weren’t quite to blame — the couple reacted publicly to their own high-profile split. “Britney was all over the place and they commented on their own cases,” Donovan says. “They even had press people comment on the situation.” 

Other A-list break-ups have been far more tactful. “For instance, Seal and his wife [Heidi Klum] did it very high level,” Donovan says, citing an example of how proceedings can work privately. “They both decided to take a more private route. They worked out their own amicable agreement that may or may not have been filed. They made an effort to keep it private.”

Based on the anonymous caption filing and the request for privacy, it seems Cruise and Holmes may be able to follow in Klum and Seal’s footsteps, but as the divorce proceedings continue on, each party may decide to take an alternative route. Also, there’s always that pesky press — information does find a way of leaking. Either way, the Holmes/Cruise break-up will likely be a public divorce regardless of their intentions. Just look at your newsstand today.


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