Robert Stephan Cohen was now obtaining a banner 12 months as one of New York’s top rated divorce attorneys.
He represented Melinda French Gates in her split from Bill Gates, 1 of the planet’s wealthiest people. He was also retained by the wife of John Paulson, the hedge fund manager who made $20bn betting versus the housing marketplace just before the 2008 monetary crisis.
Then came Labor Day. The American holiday in early September marks the standard close of summer season. Several New Yorkers experienced predicted this year’s holiday break as a time to stop their pandemic-induced isolation — and, apparently, also their marriages. Cohen has taken on 3 or four billion-greenback split-ups due to the fact then.
“I discovered that Labor Day was a sign to folks who ended up acquiring out of seclusion in East Hampton or Mexico or wherever their 2nd houses were,” explained Cohen. “It was type of a turning position for a great deal of married couples, and I think they made a decision then to pull the plug.”
Now 82, Cohen has for many years established singularly skilful at helping wealthy New Yorkers pull that plug. He has represented not one particular but two ex-wives of Donald Trump — Ivana Trump and Marla Maples — as perfectly as previous New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, shipping and delivery heiress Athina Onassis and the actor James Gandolfini, amongst other boldfaced names.
It is surprising, then, that Cohen by no means significantly wanted to be a divorce law firm. “I backed into this,” he confessed. “If any person had mentioned I was a divorce law firm, I would have been incredibly not happy because I did not consider that was like a excellent matter to do.”
It started off with a phone phone thirty-odd many years in the past, when Cohen was a litigator with a escalating track record. Just one of New York City’s most august corporate attorneys had a customer, Henry Kravis, who was getting sued by his ex-spouse about their divorce settlement. His organization, Simpson Thacher, did not want to entail by itself in this sort of issues, the law firm explained. Could Cohen assistance?
He obliged, and managed to have the go well with dismissed. The Wall Avenue Journal wrote of his exploits. “And my mobile phone commenced to ring and the conditions started to appear in,” Cohen reported.
While he has been named a “pit bull”, a “Doberman” and “your worst nightmare,” among the other descriptors of extreme litigious ferocity, Cohen was effortless-likely and genial on a the latest afternoon when welcoming a visitor to his Manhattan workplace. At this point in his occupation, it would seem, the lion have to have only often roar.
“I can do the tough stuff if I need to have to,” he certain.
Some of that toughness arrives from a “lousy” childhood Cohen endured in a one particular-bedroom condominium on the border of Bensonhurst and Coney Island. His mom was chronically sad that her partner drove a taxi. She died at 37. Cohen’s father struggled and his sister, Ellen, was taken in by relatives. He graduated from substantial faculty early and then worked his way as a result of Alfred University and Fordham legislation university, earning his diploma in 1962.
“There are so a lot of of us that came from the bowels of Brooklyn, in reduced center course family members,” Cohen mirrored.
For the duration of his military company Cohen spent considerably of his time at Fort Dix in New Jersey waiting around for the pay cellular phone so he could contact the place of work of Roy Cohn, the infamous former main counsel to Senator Joseph McCarthy’s anti-communist investigation committee — and the guy who would afterwards just take a youthful Donald Trump less than his raptor’s wing.
Cohen did not automatically concur with his politics, he stated, but he revered Cohn’s competencies as a litigator. Ultimately Cohn granted him an interview, and then a career. “That was seriously the very first door that was opened for me,” Cohen stated of his introduction to a gilded world of doorman properties and chauffeur-driven cars and trucks.
The fearsome Cohn also honed a relentlessness bordering on lunatic, berating the young law firm a person night just after he informed him that he could not come across a legal resolution to a individual consumer challenge.
“He begun to scream at me. He claimed, ‘do you imagine clients come in below and tell us that we simply cannot do one thing? There’s obtained to be a way to do it,’” Cohen recalled. “He stated, ‘do you see it’s darkish out? I can convey to you it’s daytime and I’ll demonstrate it is daytime.’”
Cohen turned a husband or wife, then still left to start his possess company. “He had a host of failings, own failings,” he reported of Cohn, who was later disbarred.
Meanwhile, the divorce landscape was altering. It was getting less complicated to attain a divorce in states that experienced lengthy necessary proof of critical fault, generally adultery. (Therefore the unseemly divorce attorney name as the snoop hiding in the motel bushes with a Polaroid camera).
Then in 1980 New York mandated an equitable distribution of marital property. Company boomed, and it has only developed as the prosperous have grown richer. Ivana Trump’s claimed $14m settlement in 1991, for instance, now seems like a rounding error in a Gates estate that involves a $55bn philanthropic foundation or an Onassis split that associated litigation in Belgium, Monaco and Brazil.
“It’s a huge small business. It involves men and women all over who understand tax, who understand securities, and who have an understanding of how to benefit all of these numerous assets,” said Cohen. His company, Cohen Clair Lans Greifer Thorpe & Rottenstriech, has 3 lawyers who are certified community accountants, as well as a community of outside the house professionals to enable price exotic assets. It is only a subject of time, Cohen predicted, prior to he hires a cryptocurrency adviser.
For all the economical sophistication, divorce stays a folks company — a lesson Cohen imparts to law pupils at the College of Pennsylvania where he has taught a class, Anatomy of a Divorce, for the final 17 several years. “You have to be a quasi-psychologist or psychiatrist or mental health and fitness skilled,” he stated. “Remember, we’re dealing with people at almost certainly the most complicated time of their life.”
Cohen, who suffered two of his possess divorces, has been married to Stephanie Stiefel, a handling director at Neuberger Berman, for 23 several years. (He wears a Cartier trinity band with a few interlaced strands). If just one can keep away from divorce, he strongly advises it. He even wrote a ebook in 2002, Reconcilable Variations, which promises seven keys to preserving a relationship.
“I’ve stated this a hundred instances: If men and women continue to be personal, which is often an crucial stage for me in declaring there may well be something there remaining to save,” he explained, incorporating: “It’s a tricky business.”