Tom Cruise’s divorce could get prickly as Katie Holmes lawyers up

Tom Cruise is one of Hollywood’s richest movie stars. His wife, Katie Holmes, has assembled a team of high-profile lawyers to handle their divorce proceedings. Will the split be amicable, as Cruise’s attorney hopes, or will the breakup be a courtroom version of the actor’s “War of the Worlds”?

The announcement Friday that Cruise’s wife of more than five years was seeking to end their marriage appeared to catch the star of the “Mission: Impossible” films off guard. Representatives for Cruise, who was in Iceland filming the movie “Oblivion,” were informed “by mail and fax” of the initiation of divorce proceedings, Cruise’s lawyer, Bert Fields, said.

Holmes filed for divorce Thursday in Manhattan, Fields confirmed. She retained two 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 host Joan Lunden and a Wall Street financier who was ordered to pay his wife $44 million.

PHOTOS: Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes through the years


In addition, Holmes hired a New Jersey divorce lawyer, Jonathan Wolfe, whose website boasts of his prowess in “complex matrimonial matters” involving leaders from 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.”

“We’re thinking about who to use,” said Fields, Cruise’s longtime legal representative in litigation matters but not a divorce specialist. He added, “We have to discuss strategy.”

“Katie’s primary concern remains, as it has always been, her daughter’s best interest,” Wolfe said, referring to the couple’s daughter, Suri, 6.

Speculation about a prenuptial agreement began almost immediately after Cruise announced his engagement to Holmes at a Paris news conference. Cruise already had two Hollywood divorces under his belt, from actresses Nicole Kidman and Mimi Rogers, and earns a lot more money than Holmes, who is best known for television’s “Dawson’s Creek” and had a costarring role in Adam Sandler’s “Jack and Jill” last year.

Forbes recently put Cruise’s annual earnings at $75 million. Like some of Hollywood’s richest performers, Cruise often earns a share of a film’s total revenue, rather than a base salary.

The couple have property in Los Angeles and New York and hundreds of acres in Telluride, Colo. Their first date was a ride (and sushi) in Cruise’s private jet. Cruise and Holmes married in a lavish ceremony in an Italian castle in 2006.

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

In spite of the legal forces being marshaled by Holmes, Fields said he wanted the matter to be resolved amicably. “I would hope that it’s not a contentious matter. I know Tom is not a particularly contentious person,” he added.

Bernard Clair, a Manhattan divorce lawyer with many wealthy clients, said judges generally order divorcing couples to abide by the terms of their prenuptial agreements when it comes to finances. But the court often modifies provisions governing child support and custody, potential issues in the Cruise-Holmes breakup.

“These provisions relating to custody are almost always viewed as statements of intent and aspiration as opposed to enforceable and binding provisions,” Clair said.

The decision to file in New York rather than California might have been one of convenience – Holmes and the couple’s daughter are currently living in New York – but it also might reflect a desire for privacy.

“My guess is that she brought it in New York because files are sealed,” said Manhattan attorney Raoul Felder, a veteran of high-profile divorce cases. “If it was in California, it’s all public and you can walk into the clerk’s office and get the papers.”