ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — Questions about how a possible divorce between Tiger Woods and his wife would unfold have become the ultimate Internet guessing game.
How much could a settlement be? Where might a divorce be filed? When could it be filed? What would it entail? And on and on it goes in the muddled world of celebrity gossip.
In reality, the answers might not be so complex.
There are only so many ways to carry out a divorce settlement, experts say. The law provides guidelines that must be followed, and the couple has options to keep private some of the juicy details so many seem to crave.
The framework of when, where and how one of the biggest divorce settlements in history would go down might already be in place. There’s even the possibility for the ultimate cliffhanger.
“They can keep most any information out of court if they’re both in agreement,” said attorney Raoul Felder, who handled the divorce for former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani.
The Internet has been abuzz over a possible divorce ever since Woods crashed his SUV outside his central Florida home in November, setting off revelations that he was cheating on his wife, Elin. Should a divorce take place, according to several high-profile attorneys, there are a slew of options for both parties.
The couple, who have a 3-year-old daughter and a 1-year-old son, would likely divorce in Florida: It’s where their two primary homes are. The state’s laws also make it easier for Elin to file and, because there is no state income tax, claim the most money. Sweden, where she is from, has higher taxes and is not as favorable. The same goes for California, where they also own a home.
Florida is a “no-fault” state, which means parties don’t need grounds for divorce – they only need to tell a judge that the marriage is “irretrievably broken.” Florida also has an “equitable distribution” law that requires courts to begin under the premise that assets would be divided equally.
But location is not guaranteed. Normally, the Woodses would file for divorce in their home counties of Orange or Martin, but if they both agree, they could likely file it any of Florida’s 65 other counties in an attempt to keep it quiet, several divorce lawyers said.
Fellow golfer Greg Norman and tennis great Chris Evert, for example, filed for divorce in the Florida Keys, even though they had no home there.
“Courts recognize there’s a balance of equity between the public’s right to know and the privacy of a family. And because there are children involved, the court is always sort of a guardian of the children’s best interests. Confidentiality is most likely even in Tiger’s case,” said attorney Mark Jay Heller, who represented Jon Gosselin of “Jon & Kate Plus 8” fame in his divorce.
Still, in any divorce involving a prominent celebrity or athlete isn’t likely to stay quiet long – even if it’s filed in a remote location.
Ira M. Elegant, a Miami-based lawyer who has represented Yankees slugger Alex Rodriguez and NBA star Shaquille O’Neal in divorce proceedings, said Woods’ camp would have a hard time fooling anyone over the venue.
“The first thing somebody in the clerk’s office would do is pick up the phone, and it would probably get out by word of mouth before they even dialed,” he said.
Limiting what’s in the filing, experts say, would be Woods’ best chance to keep details private.
In Florida, a financial affidavit and a child support worksheet – both requiring detailed assets and income statements – are among the documents that must be completed. There have been cases, however, where the court has allowed those numbers to remain blank.
There’s also a possibility a judge could seal the filing in “the best interests of the children.”
“It’s like any case: It depends on the judge,” Elegant said. “If you can find a sympathetic judge, it’s possible to keep a lot of information out of public record.”
The one thing everybody agrees on is that Elin is likely to walk away with a major pay day. It just might not be as much as some have speculated.
If there is no prenuptial agreement, she would be entitled to half of Woods’ assets earned since they were married – not half of his net worth, which Forbes magazine estimated at $600 million last year. And because Woods made much of that fortune before their 2004 wedding, the amount could actually be much lower than those floating around celebrity gossip websites.
That doesn’t mean her lawyers wouldn’t go after as much as possible.
“There’s also a fine line with being the victim and being greedy. You have to play your cards like a master poker player, because if she crosses that line public sympathy goes out the window,” Felder said.
The protocol for each isn’t tough to comprehend.
Orlando-based divorce attorney Mayanne Downs won one of the biggest settlements ever at more than $200 million, representing Bettie Siegel in her case against timeshare kingpin David Siegel. Her plan against Woods would be simple.
“If I was advising Elin,” she said, “my recommendation to her would be cash, cash, cash. See, Tiger is likely to continue to earn money in his career. She doesn’t have that ability.”
And if she were advising Tiger?
“Get something done,” Downs said, “quickly and quietly.”
That sentiment is widely shared.
Of course, speculating on any amount of money might be meaningless if there’s a prenuptial agreement – something most wealthy people have. Although there are ways to get a court to dismiss the agreement, such contracts are usually ironclad.
“Tiger would almost certainly have a prenuptial agreement, and a strong one, or it’s financial Armageddon,” said attorney Jason Marks, who also has represented Rodriguez and the wife of former Tyco International CEO Dennis Kozlowski in divorce proceedings. “But it’s not unheard of that he wouldn’t.”
There also is a confidentiality agreement in most settlements involving high-profile figures, meaning Elin and her attorneys would be penalized financially for publicly disclosing details. How long a divorce could take to settle is anyone’s guess – anywhere from a couple days to a couple years.
Don’t expect any comments from those involved, either.
Woods won’t answer questions about his family, deeming the details private. A lawyer for Woods would not be able to comment publicly on an ongoing case because of attorney-client privileges.
So the public will just have to wait for more details until a divorce filing.
Unless a settlement is sitting in some far away place undiscovered.
That is, if they even divorce.