Lawsuits are about as ubiquitous in the life of the “Real Housewives of New York,” star Bethenny Frankel as yellow taxicabs are on the Upper East Side. You win some, you lose some. In one recent food litigation skirmish, Amy Langendorf agreed to drop her federal lawsuit that claimed Frankel’s Skinnygirl Margarita cocktail is advertised as “all natural” but contains a non-natural preservative. U.S. District Judge Manish S. Shah dismissed the suit with prejudice. As for Frankel’s divorce against estranged spouse Jason Hoppy, the branding maven doesn’t appear to be getting off so easy.
We all know the stereotypes of divorce: a cheating spouse, lack of trust and communication, addiction, financial difficulties, and fighting over unfulfilled goals. Imagine how complicated it is for public figures who have decided matrimony (at least with each other) isn’t for them. In the world of high-stakes divorce, the battle being waged by Skinnygirl Cocktails founder Bethenny Frankel and Jason Hoppy just took another sharp turn.
Frankel has been ordered to pay the pharmaceutical salesman $100,000 in lawyer fees by June 1. Frankel’s net worth has been estimated to be at least $25 million but that number could spiral downward what with the $3,000 a month in child support for Bryn and about $12,000 in monthly alimony she’s been ordered to pay Hoppy, according to the New York Post. Frankel also has to put up the $11,000 per month it costs to maintain the former couple’s $5 million Tribeca residence that is 3,400-square-feet of luxury.
For self-help author Frankel, all the aforementioned numbers give new meaning to the phrase, “Breaking up is hard to do.” It isn’t that Frankel is in a financially precarious predicament now that her husband has been awarded $100,000 in counsel fees but is the fact that Frankel has to foot most of the bills justified?
Under New York law, the wealthier spouse must cough up lawyer fees and temporary child support and alimony. According to court documents, Hoppy “lacks sufficient funds of his own to compensate counsel without depleting his assets.”
Hoppy apparently paid his former lawyers just over $300,000, and he owes them nearly $87,000. Since then, Hoppy has secured new legal representation to fight Frankel, which necessarily meant paying a retainer of $50,000. As for his own liquidity, some sources suggest Hoppy wouldn’t be able to secure funds to rent his and Frankel’s mansion in the sky let alone a studio apartment with communal bathroom and scenic view of a brick wall.
Things aren’t any rosier for the Forbes cover girl. Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Ellen Gesmer hasn’t looked favorably upon the I Suck at Relationships So You Don’t Have To writer. “It’s not a joke. Her child is not a joke. No more pajamas!” Justice Ellen Gesmer warned Frankel’s attorney, Allan Mayefsky, in court after Mayefsky tried to explain away his client’s behavior (wearing Bryn’s PJs and posting online “This is my daughter’s nightgown and PJ shorts. Think we’re ready to start sharing clothes yet?”).
The Court did not award counsel fees in the amount of $100,000 to Frankel’s soon-to-be ex-husband because it had an extreme revulsion toward Frankel’s wired antics. In matrimonial actions, courts are authorized to award counsel fees when there is a significant disparity of financial resources between spouses. New York Domestic Relations Law permits courts to discretionarily award attorney fees to enable a spouse to pursue an action for divorce or defend against an action for divorce.
Jason did not have to prove poverty in order to receive an award of attorney fees. On the contrary, the goal behind the law in New York is to guarantee the litigation is shaped not by the power of the purse but rather the evidence produced and expert testimony presented. The parties and their attorneys are required to submit a sworn statement, or affidavit, to the court with financial information/disclosures, including the fees of each party’s counsel. Those proofs shall enable the court to make a counsel fee determination.
In October of 2010, the New York legislature amended the law and included a mandate that creates a rebuttable presumption that counsel fees will be awarded to the “less monied” spouse, which in this instance is Hoppy. Effective October 12, 2010, the Domestic Relations Law §237 and §238 requires “the Court in a matrimonial case …involving the parties with greatly unequal financial resources, to order the monied party to pay counsel fees for the non monied party during the course of the case so as to enable her or him to defend it.”
Generally speaking, the Court considers the spouse with the greater income, earning power, and assets to be the “monied spouse.” Prior to this amendment, the burden would have been on Hoppy (the “less monied spouse”) to prove to the Court why Frankel should pay his expenses and fees. Now, courts presume the monied spouse should pay the less monied spouse counsel fees but that presumption may be rebutted.
Here is something I want to ask All About the Tea posters: When these laws seek to equalize the parties’ incomes by ordering the monied spouse to pay counsel fees, child support, and other add-on expenses of the less monied spouse, is this redistribution objective appropriate? How the extremely wealthy disassemble their marriages is indeed worthy of a second look.
American actress Mae West famously remarked, “Marriage is a great institution, but I’m not ready for an institution.” My guess is Bethenny Frankel today sees marriage as an unholy alliance and a club she has zero interest in joining. Grab your gavel, join the conversation, and let us know what you think about the $100,000 award of counsel fees to Jason Hoppy and this scandal-filled divorce in general.
Stacy Slotnick, Esq. holds a J.D., cum laude, from Touro Law Center and a B.A., summa cum laude, from the University of Massachusetts Amherst. She performs a broad range of duties as an entertainment lawyer, including drafting and negotiating contracts; addressing and litigating trademark, copyright, and other IP issues; and directing the strategy and implementation of public relations, blogging, and social media campaigns.