Griffin divorce negotiations no surprise to experts

Originally Published by Becky Yerak and Kim Janssen on Chicago Tribune, Oct 5, 2015

The highly anticipated divorce trial of billionaire hedge fund manager Ken Griffin and his wife, Anne Dias Griffin, appears headed where most divorce trials end up — in a settlement.

Griffin and Dias Griffin returned to the negotiating table on the day the trial was scheduled to begin.

A trial into the validity of the couple’s prenuptial agreement was to start Monday morning. But midafternoon, the court said the two sides were attempting to reach a settlement. The trial has been postponed until Wednesday morning to give them time to work out their differences.

Money manager Dias Griffin was initially expected to testify Tuesday.

Court proceedings had been scheduled to last seven days over the prenuptial agreement alone. The couple is also fighting over child support and custody of their three children.

Monday’s last-minute negotiations didn’t come as a surprise to experts, who say prenuptial agreements and privacy concerns mean few divorces among the wealthy get this far.

Even those that do typically settle long before a judge is called upon to make a ruling. A notable exception — which may sound a cautionary note for Griffin and Dias Griffin — was the bitter divorce of the man 33 places above Griffin on Forbes’ rich list, leveraged buyout billionaire Ronald Perelman, from his third wife, Patricia Duff.

Neither Perelman nor Duff emerged with unscathed reputations after a New York judge scolded them for their parenting and a court psychiatrist said that Duff was “paranoid” and “narcissistic” and that Perelman needed long-term therapy to control his wild anger.

More recently in Chicago, NBA star Dwyane Wade got better press during his protracted custody battle with ex-wife Siohvaughn Funches. Though the financial side of that case was settled out of court, it didn’t stop Funches from claiming to be homeless during a memorably bizarre sit-down protest in Daley Plaza.

But Jacqueline Newman, a New York attorney who specializes in handling the divorces of wealthy couples, said she doesn’t expect the Griffin-Dias case to drag on long.

“I think they’ll go a few days, if everyone has an appetite to go to trial and get their feet wet … but it becomes a game of chicken, and I’d be very surprised if they do not settle,” Newman said.

While both sides might well be fixing for a fight, the reality could be bracing, she added.

“You can be incredibly intelligent and educated and successful in the boardroom and be much less effective in the courtroom,” Newman said. “Emotions run high.”

Extremely wealthy couples typically prefer to avoid a trial for precisely the reasons demonstrated by the intense public interest in the Griffin-Dias case, she added. “They want to stay out of the press — they want to protect their privacy, their children and their businesses, and a trial can go on for a very long time.”

Proceedings in the divorce, initiated by Ken Griffin in July 2014, began Monday morning, with lawyers and Judge Grace Dickler retreating to judge’s chamber to discuss confidential aspects of the case.

The lawyers had also been expected to spend a few hours making various motions related to evidence, including what to keep out of public court.

If the sides don’t settle and the court accepts the prenuptial agreement, as Griffin hopes, then the case will become “much easier,” Newman said. But if the court rejects the prenup, “then it’s a whole new ball game” and Griffin will likely be keen to settle, she added.

Testimony from Dias Griffin on the prenup would allow her to fire a few early shots at Griffin, particularly “if she testifies that it was signed under duress,” Newman said. But she should “still have plenty of ammunition” held back to put pressure on Griffin to agree to a deal more to her liking, Newman added.

Regardless of who wins, she said, “neither of these people are going to be hungry.”

Buy Jacqueline's Book

The New Rules of Divorce is the definitive guide to navigating divorce in today’s world.