POSTED: 5:54 p.m. HST, May 10, 2011
LAST UPDATED: 9:46 p.m. HST, May 10, 2011
LOS ANGELES >> Arnold Schwarzenegger and Maria Shriver have spent a lifetime and their entire marriage in the public eye, but the joint announcement of their separation rather than a race to the courthouse could signal a more private breakup.
The former bodybuilder turned action star and the television journalist each entered their marriage 25 years ago with separate fortunes and legacies, and the script for whether and how they end that union largely depends on decisions they've already made.
At stake are the pair's children, millions of dollars, memorabilia and accolades from each of their on-camera careers, and something that gets quickly trashed in a high-profile, public divorce — their reputations.
The couple announced they had split in a joint statement Monday evening but have not filed formal court papers.
"After a great deal of thought, reflection, discussion, and prayer, we came to this decision together," the statement said.
On Tuesday night, in his first public comments since the announcement, Schwarzenegger thanked friends and family for an outpouring of support. "We both love each other very much," Schwarzenegger said at a Los Angeles event marking Israeli independence. "We are taking one day at a time."
The couple's union had at times a storybook feel and the couple often waxed publicly about their love for one another, although there have been situations that would strain any marriage.
Since his term as California governor ended in early January, Schwarzenegger has hopscotched around the world, his wife nowhere in sight. Shriver posted three Twitter updates on April 26, their 25th wedding anniversary, without mentioning the milestone.
While Schwarzenegger, 63, appeared confident about the future since exiting politics, cutting movie deals and fashioning himself as a global spokesman for green energy, Shriver, 55, known for her confidence, seemed unsettled.
Shriver appears without a wedding ring in videos posted recently on YouTube and talks about stress in her life, the weight of expectations and the search for faith in a troubled world.
If the pair are contemplating a divorce, then chances are both have already consulted with attorneys.
Monday's statement may be the first move in a playbook developed by high-profile couples hoping to avoid their breakups being dragged through the courts and tabloids, said Los Angeles-based family law attorney Steve Mindel.
The strategy involves releasing a statement before any court papers are filed, Mindel explained, and then having the matter heard through private mediation. The result is an agreement that doesn't require both sides to publicly reveal their finances, although Schwarzenegger and Shriver are not strangers to public disclosure.
Economic disclosure forms filed when Schwarzenegger left as California governor in January show he has interests in at least eight entities worth $1 million or more. An exact tally of his wealth is impossible to calculate, although the forms show the "Terminator" star still retains rights to intellectual property from his days as a fitness guru and movie star.
Shriver's holdings are more modest but are listed in the disclosure as being worth more than $1 million. She is a member of the Kennedy family and is a beneficiary of some of its assets, and also owns rights and royalties from her work as an author, the filings show.
Shriver maintained her own identity when her husband entered politics, though she gave up her job at NBC. Their union was often tested in Sacramento, where the former action star contended with a rough seven years of legislative gridlock, a budget crisis and lingering questions about his fidelity.
She stood by her husband during his 2003 gubernatorial campaign after the Los Angeles Times reported accusations that he had a history of groping women. Schwarzenegger later said he "behaved badly sometimes."
While Schwarzenegger was governor, Shriver and their children never moved to Sacramento and he commuted by private jet between his Los Angeles-area home and the state capital.
It is unknown whether the pair signed an agreement either before or after they married that divides up their assets, including four properties and their canyon home in the exclusive Brentwood section of Los Angeles.
"We really don't know what's going on," said Mindel, who has more than 25 years of experience handling divorces. "We do know that they're acting very civilized and they're acting in unison."
"If things go smoothly for the Schwarzeneggers, we may never see the actual settlement documents," he said.
That was the case for singer Christina Aguilera, whose publicist announced her breakup from her music marketing executive husband days before a formal divorce petition was filed. Comedian George Lopez followed the same formula, and neither case produced acidic court filings that have become the hallmark of other stars' breakups. Within four months of Aguilera filing for divorce, she and her ex had reached an agreement that remains largely sealed.
When couples separate, it is largely a financial move. Unless the couple has a property agreement, in California any assets they accrued throughout the marriage are split 50/50. Once they separate, their earnings become their own.
That may be significant for Schwarzenegger, who has said he hopes to revive the film career he placed on hold when he was elected governor. Shriver has said she doesn't foresee a return to on-camera journalism.
The couple has four children — two adults and two sons aged 13 and 17. Custody of the teenagers will be determined separately from any financial or property interests, although it's likely the pair will seek joint custody, said Charlotte Goldberg, a family law professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles.
Custodial arrangements cannot be handled in a pre-nuptial agreement, and Goldberg said the teens are old enough that they'll likely have some say in what happens, Goldberg said.
But she noted that a separation doesn't always signal a divorce is imminent.
"Some people separate in order to try to work things out, to see if they can reconcile and come back together," Goldberg said.
That was the case for talk show host Larry King and his wife Shawn, who kicked off a bitter divorce struggle last year before deciding to stay together. Similarly, actors David Arquette and Courtney Cox announced last year they were separating, but have yet to file any formal paperwork to make their split official.
Family law attorney Robert Nachshin said the announcement that Schwarzenegger and Shriver have been living apart for some time probably indicates their marriage is ending.
"I think most people who announce a separation end up proceeding with a divorce," Nachshin said. "And that's probably true in this case."
Like Mindel, he expects the couple, who have been in the public eye for a generation, will handle the rest of their breakup behind closed doors rather than in a courtroom.
"I just hope that each party keeps their emotions in check and tries to go through the divorce recognizing they have many children, many friends, many admirers throughout the world and they keep the divorce as private as possible," Nachshin said.