Laura Wasser, the A-list divorce lawyer celebrities have on speed dial, says it’s time to give marriage a rebrand, writes Celia Walden.

The night before I meet Laura Wasser, I nearly divorce my husband by accident. Hollywood's "Disso Queen" — as the top lawyer has become known after decades of helping the likes of Angelina Jolie, Johnny Depp, Kim Kardashian, Maria Shriver, Ryan Reynolds, Ashton Kutcher, Mariah Carey, Kiefer Sutherland and Britney Spears dissolve their marriages — has had the ingenious idea of setting up an online do-it-yourself divorce app, It's Over Easy, which promises to zip you through one of the most painful and laborious processes known to humanity in five easy steps (four if there are no kids involved). And all for the bargain price of US$750-$2500 ($1019-$3397). The site is so easy to navigate that, after answering a few basic questions (in the name of research, of course), I suddenly find myself in a section inquiring as to whether I'm "ready to generate your legal forms".

After I tell her how close she brought me to the precipice, Wasser laughs, "When I first came up with the idea, people did say to me, 'You don't want to make divorce too easy.' But the reality is that it's going to be hard on you emotionally, no matter what. And people just don't want to spend a bunch of money on attorneys these days. They don't want to go through the surreal experience of coming somewhere ridiculously expensive and talking to someone they don't know about the breakdown of their marriage. People bank online, they shop online and they date online, so nowadays they just want to sit on their couch in their underwear with a box of cereal and ..."

Get divorced online? "Exactly."

Coming to see Wasser here, however, in the plush Beverly Hills offices of Wasser, Cooperman & Carter, is far more appealing than dealing with an app. The 49-year-old is comically glamorous; with gym-honed legs magnified by the vast glass desk she sits behind, tousled chestnut tresses tossed over one shoulder, she looks like one of the myriad A-listers she represents. Only there's an ironic lilt to her mouth and a warmth to her demeanour that are rare in this town and context — and probably reassuring to the stars who come in here steeling themselves for a prolonged and very public bout of litigation against the person they were calling "my everything" on an awards podium a few weeks earlier.

Lauren Wasser.
Lauren Wasser.

Are celebrities pathologically incapable of making marriage work? "I honestly think it's just more magnified, because we're far more interested in celebrity divorce than that of Joe and Jane Shmoe. Don't forget that in California there's a 50 per cent divorce rate," Wasser says.

"And in the end celebrities are just like us — plus or minus a few zeroes on the numbers in their bank accounts.

"But yes," she concedes, "in the entertain-ment industry there can be some ego. Also these people don't live 9-to-5-come-home-and-make-casserole lives. They're either on location filming or on tour and, if both husband and wife have those kinds of schedules, then it's hard to maintain a normal daily marriage."

Certainly the marital breakdowns of the rich and famous tend to be anything but normal. In Wasser's 2013 book, It Doesn't Have To Be That Way: How to Divorce Without Destroying Your Family or Bankrupting Yourself, she recounts some of the more memorable tales she has come across in her 25-year career: the woman who was so desperate to get her husband out of the house that she beat herself up with a phone handset in front of their child in order to have "evidence" of abuse; the man who sent his wife a bunch of red roses on Valentine's Day with a court summons tacked on to a thorn, and the wife relieved to find her nanny performing a sex act on her husband (while the couple's 4-year-old twins slept in the adjoining room), knowing it would be her "get-out-of-jail-with-millions" card.

Wasser also tells me about the woman who "once took off her shoe and threw it across the room with such force that the stiletto stuck for a second in the wooden door", and the high-profile trend of accusing your estranged spouse of giving you an STD. "It's a separate claim to anything divorce-related, because we have 'no fault' divorces in all US states now, but people will say that 'on top of everything else you left me with an STD' because they can get some extra remuneration."

Then there are the pets, Wasser groans. "You can't get custody of pets but what people have done to keep their pets and the extent to which people argue about those pets ..."

On the emotional barometer, who gets the cats, dogs and occasionally parrots is matched only by squabbles over art, she says — and, of course, rings. "A lot of the time the ring somehow disappears," she says with a low chuckle. "But if people have the money to argue about things, then they will."

Ask Wasser whether in this age of female empowerment "entitled wife syndrome" — where the woman aims to clean out her husband in the divorce — is even slightly on the wane, and she shakes her head.

Are celebrities pathologically incapable of making marriage work? Photo / Getty Images
Are celebrities pathologically incapable of making marriage work? Photo / Getty Images

"Nope. Marriage is a deal, and both of you absolutely know what you're getting into. So the young hot trophy wife who marries the older super-wealthy man knows the deal. She's giving him whatever it is that she does for him behind closed doors and looking beautiful on his arm and in exchange he's going to pay for everything."

But isn't the old, ugly guy being "entitled" too? Because the wife is very much a brand asset to him? "Absolutely. Although you do see a lot more of it the other way around nowadays, which is great."

Despite the bemusing rise of entitled toyboys, Wasser must spend a lot of her daily life bathing in a sea of anger, sadness and spite. And yet she's relentlessly upbeat, countering my Danny DeVito divorce quote — "There is no winning, just different degrees of losing" — with her own favourite Dr Seuss maxim: "Don't cry because it's over; smile because it happened.

"Honestly I came into this business to help people," insists Wasser, who worked her way up from being her founder father Dennis Wasser's "Xerox girl" to partner at the firm. "And actually I have seen a lot of love too, over the years: the love people feel for their kids and their ex-spouses, even when they're no longer sharing a bed or a home." Sometimes a client will even fall back in love after coming to see her, she says. "Then I'll bump into them with their spouses at a gala and when they shake my hand and say, 'Nice to meet you.' I always play the game."

Wasser herself was married for 14 months in her mid-20s. She has two sons — Luke, 12, and Jack, 8 — from former boyfriends and is currently in a relationship with a man she loves "to death" and is "totally committed to" but will never marry. "I can't imagine why I would," she shrugs. "I still love very much both of the men I had kids with. We are a family, and spent Passover all together at my mother's house in Malibu. Divorce doesn't carry the stigma it once did, it's about finding a different way to love and co-parent. It's about seeing the new man or woman in your ex's life as just another person in your tribe — and isn't that great? Divorce is happening: the app is just about making things easier when it does."

If there were such a thing as "divorce-spirational", it would look and sound a lot like Wasser.

"Maybe it's time we changed the way we think about marriage," she muses. "Maybe if we want two or three great loves in our lives we should be allowed to have that experience."

Maybe she's right. How much is her retainer again?