For $6.8 million, Rudy Giuliani got off cheap.

For $6.8 million, Rudy Giuliani got off cheap.

For $6.8 million, Rudy Giuliani got off cheap.

The law, lawyers, and the court.
July 12 2002 12:31 PM

Hats Off to Rudy

For $6.8 million, Giuliani got off cheap.

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Hanover and Giuliani: happier times

No matter what the headlines are screaming, the $6 Million Mayor won his divorce Wednesday, plain and simple. Nearly two years after it started, Rudy finally demonstrated the kind of class that cements his title of Man of the Year—not just in his public dealings, but now, also in his private ones. Would that he had exhibited some of this good judgment a little earlier … like before his kids' psychic scarring. But regardless of how much money he's paying out and how much sh*t he had to eat on the courthouse steps Wednesday, Giuliani was the big winner in the divorce settlement.

Dahlia Lithwick Dahlia Lithwick

Dahlia Lithwick writes about the courts and the law for Slate and hosts the podcast Amicus.

Anyone who's been appalled at the depths to which the parties stooped in this Hanover/Giuliani split just hasn't been divorced from a millionaire often enough. As big splashy divorces go, this was no uglier than most. The whining over who abused whom, the astronomical requests for financial (and canine) support, the press conferences, the viciousness of the lawyers: None of this was unprecedented, particularly in a case involving adultery, fame, bottomless public interest, and egos the size of the five boroughs. The only surprise in this case was that the former mayor—perhaps belatedly remembering his own future ambition, perhaps sobered by Sept. 11, and perhaps because he really is as smart as he looks in those little round glasses—decided to throw in the towel Wednesday, and in so doing, to move on with his life.

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In my prior career with a fancy divorce firm—a job that bears about as much relation to everyday reality as, say, repairing garage doors on Neptune—I learned this one truth: In a divorce case, whoever looks like the winner usually lost. Yes, they got some good licks in, and yes, they landed some sound bites, but as a general rule, whoever is crowing outside the courthouse is screwed, if only because they will keep fighting this battle for a long time to come. Somehow, looking like you "got" everything just makes people unhappier in the long run.

The former mayor seems to have internalized—and with no help from his crazed and feral lawyers—the most crucial lessons of any divorce:

1. Be the money guy. The conventional wisdom is wrong. It says that the "impecunious" spouse always does better in a divorce because she gets to sit around on her duff while the beleaguered ex-husband works like a dog to support her. And at first glance it looks like Rudy got slammed with the monstrous $6.8 million lump-sum payment to Ms. Hanover (plus spousal and child support and her legal fees) because although she earned more than he did for a while, the court figured out what he'll be earning in speaking tours and book advances next year. But what this ignores is that Giuliani will be earning money like that the year after next, and the year after that; and he'll be earning even more because his books won't have dust jackets that describe him as a vile adulterer. Giuliani's payment to Hanover is peanuts compared to his future earnings, and with it, he bought his reputation back.

2. It always comes out in the end. Every divorce lawyer tells her clients to come clean with all their perversions and deviancies because in the end, it's all going to be trotted out before the judge anyhow. And every client thinks he knows better and hides the affairs and the fur handcuffs until 17 minutes before trial. Why? I have never known. But just as the lawyers were settling the Giuliani divorce in a conference room, Hanover's subpoenaed witnesses were assembling in the courtroom. Her attorney, Helene Brezinsky, had every intention of calling the ex-mayor's two alleged floozies to the stand: his current companion, Judith Nathan, and the other-other woman, Christyne Lategano-Nicholas, the former aide who Hanover says had an affair with her husband. And "there were a lot of other subpoenas out there," Brezinsky crowed. Giuliani has denied that he ever had a relationship with Nicholas, and it would have been disastrous to watch the truth ooze out on the stand. Lucky for everyone, we'll never have to hear what Rudy's definition of "is" is.

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3. Telling your story is overrated. I suspect that one of the main reasons divorcing spouses fail to settle is that everyone has a burning need to get up on the stand and moan about how humiliated she was/scarred he was/damaged the kids are/neglected the pets are. You can tell your client 3 billion times that it's going to be a lot worse hearing the other side's story than venting yours, but the client is usually undeterred. They really believe they will persuade the judge. This is why Hanover's lawyer announced on the sidewalk Wednesday that Giuliani had admitted, as part of the settlement, to being "cruel and inhuman" to her "based on his open relationship" with Nathan: She wanted to win the "story." Her client was the victim. But Giuliani admitted nothing of the sort. He merely acceded to Hanover's version of the divorce complaint. Given the chance to clarify even this point on the courthouse steps, though, the former mayor stayed silent (although he did let his attorneys say it). Why? Because Giuliani finally figured out that the same guy who held New York City together after 9/11 looks like a baby when he whines to the press about how his ex-wife used to exercise in the room above his and keep him up. He recognized belatedly that he hurt her and that no one cares that she hurt him back.

4. Let go of the kids. This is not meant to sound heartless, and you can go ahead and poleax me in The Fray right now. But in any custody fight, one parent needs to recognize that they can't both be the primary parent anymore. Giuliani was ramping up for a galactic custody battle last year when he allowed Raoul Felder, his attorney, to call Hanover an "uncaring mother" who was "howling like a stuck pig." And the judge's various earlier rulings during trial reflected—fairly or not—that Giuliani is a very busy man who isn't always there for his kids, much as he may wish to be. Often that fact does not deter the working parent, who bitches and moans about being penalized for being the breadwinner. Giuliani got it, and allowed Hanover residential custody of their two children—Andrew, 16, and Caroline, 12—and the final decision-making authority regarding them. Instead of begrudging them support money—whining that the ex-wife will use it—Giuliani agreed to pay thousands of dollars each month in child support. He'll visit and support them and be the kind of dad they can be proud of. He'll just live somewhere different. Good for him.

5. Move forward and not back. The trial finally hit rock-bottom back when Hanover reportedly asked for $1,140 a month for the care of Goalie, the family's Labrador retriever. In my experience, once a party pulls a dumb stunt like that, the other party responds with an equal and opposite moronic reaction. They go back and forth, each competing to be pettier and more absurd. There are clients willing to spend thousands of dollars in legal fees to divide up some $30 Tupperware. The drama becomes an end in itself and unless one party can disengage, the drama becomes far more interesting than living your life. You can call your friends day and night and amaze them with stories of what she's asking in kibble! Kudos to the former mayor, then, for muzzling his lawyers, paying the piper, and letting Donna feel like the big winner Wednesday. She'll be rehashing the details of her settlement at dinner parties for years to come. By now, he's already over it.