POSTED: 01:30 a.m. HST, May 20, 2011
LAST UPDATED: 06:47 a.m. HST, May 20, 2011
LOS ANGELES >> With everyone talking about former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's out-of-wedlock child, the politician abruptly put his Hollywood comeback on hold to sort out his personal life and perhaps prepare for a starring role in a big-budget divorce battle.
The former "Terminator" star, who earlier this week acknowledged fathering a child with his family's longtime housekeeper, told his talent agency Thursday to postpone all his movie projects.
"Gov. Schwarzenegger is focusing on personal matters and is not willing to commit to any production schedules or timelines," a statement from his office said.
When Schwarzenegger and his wife, Maria Shriver, separated earlier this month, neither was talking divorce. That may have changed, however, after he revealed Monday that he fathered a now 13-year-old son with the family housekeeper and never told his wife until this year.
People magazine reported this week that Shriver has retained prominent Los Angeles divorce attorney Laura Wasser. If the Kennedy heiress and former network TV anchor goes ahead with a divorce, several prominent attorneys say, she is likely to cash in big.
"It seems to me that he has gratuitously embarrassed her. This should greatly enhance settlement negotiations," said Atlanta attorney John Mayoue, who has represented Chris Rock in a paternity suit, baseball star David Justice in his split with actress Halle Berry, and other celebrities.
Although California is a no-fault divorce state, meaning her husband's actions technically can't be used against him in court, the reality, attorneys say, is that it will be.
"Every judge would know about what happened, and I think would hold it against him," said attorney Robert Nachshin, who has represented the ex-wives of a who's who of entertainers that includes Will Smith, Rod Stewart and John Ritter. "Judges are human beings, and Maria will definitely be the sympathetic spouse."
Based on his experience, Nachshin said, Shriver should expect to receive at least $100,000 a month in spousal support and, with three children under the age of 18, probably another $40,000 or more a month in child support.
Then there's the division of the couple's property, including the Brentwood mansion that Shriver and her children moved from earlier this year.
Nachshin said that could be affected by a prenuptial agreement, if the couple signed one when they were married in 1986. Many such agreements call for people to keep what would otherwise be joint assets separate after marriage.
Although the scandal has gained worldwide attention, the attorneys said the most surprising thing about it is that the public found out.
"In my experience what Arnold did is not unusual," said Nachshin, who has represented several clients he said hid the existence of children from their wives and others. Mayoue said separately that it's not surprising for celebrities to have such secrets the public never knows of.
In retaining Wasser, Shriver is turning to an attorney whose specialty is keeping details of celebrity splits secret, and Nachshin said that's what Schwarzenegger should strive to achieve. He suggested that if the former governor is smart, he would seek to have divorce proceedings handled privately by a retired family law judge, keep his mouth shut in public and tell the truth in court.
"Because courts go crazy if people lie," he said.
Celebrity divorces have become a specialty of retired judges because they can be conducted in private, although the final resolution must, like any other divorce, be made public.
In the past, celebrities and the wealthy have gone to great lengths to keep the details of their divorces private, with mixed results.
Billionaire supermarket mogul Ron Burkle tried unsuccessfully to keep secret 1,200 pages of his divorce transcript, including allegations that he told his daughter he had videotapes of her mother having sex with a boyfriend.
In allowing the documents to be unsealed, the California Supreme Court struck down a law that would have kept them from the public. Ironically, the law was signed by Schwarzenegger.
If there is one area where the former governor may prevail, attorneys and other experts say, it would be in getting out of paying a substantial sum to either the 13-year-old boy or his mother.
The woman, who has been identified as Mildred Patricia Baena of Bakersfield by The New York Times and other media, has vanished since her name became public Wednesday. The Associated Press has not independently verified that she is the mother of Schwarzenegger's child.
Schwarzenegger's office has declined to discuss whether Baena is the boy's mother.
On her son's birth certificate, Baena listed her ex-husband as the boy's father and there's no evidence that has ever been contested.
The time limit for her ex-husband to challenge paternity has long since passed, so it could never be legally established that Schwarzenegger is the father, said Michael McCormick, executive director of the American Coalition for Fathers & Children.
McCormick previously assisted a man who tried unsuccessfully to get the courts to halt his child support payments to his ex-wife after DNA tests showed the woman's daughter actually was fathered by comedian Sam Kinison.
"From a legal perspective, Arnold Schwarzenegger had nothing to do with the creation of this child," McCormick said.