Robert Stephan Cohen was by now getting a banner year as one of New York’s major divorce legal professionals.
He represented Melinda French Gates in her split from Bill Gates, just one of the planet’s wealthiest individuals. He was also retained by the spouse of John Paulson, the hedge fund supervisor who created $20bn betting against the housing current market in advance of the 2008 economic disaster.
Then came Labor Working day. The American holiday break in early September marks the classic conclude of summer season. Lots of New Yorkers had expected this year’s getaway as a time to conclusion their pandemic-induced isolation — and, evidently, also their marriages. Cohen has taken on a few or four billion-greenback crack-ups considering the fact that then.
“I discovered that Labor Working day was a signal to people today who were being having out of seclusion in East Hampton or Mexico or where ever their second homes were,” explained Cohen. “It was type of a turning place for a whole lot of married partners, and I believe they determined then to pull the plug.”
Now 82, Cohen has for decades established singularly skilful at assisting wealthy New Yorkers pull that plug. He has represented not a single but two ex-wives of Donald Trump — Ivana Trump and Marla Maples — as nicely as former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, transport heiress Athina Onassis and the actor James Gandolfini, amongst other boldfaced names.
It is shocking, then, that Cohen in no way considerably required to be a divorce attorney. “I backed into this,” he confessed. “If anybody experienced explained I was a divorce attorney, I would have been incredibly sad since I didn’t believe that was like a excellent point to do.”
It started with a mobile phone simply call 30-odd several years ago, when Cohen was a litigator with a increasing name. A person of New York City’s most august company legal professionals had a shopper, Henry Kravis, who was remaining sued by his ex-spouse above their divorce settlement. His company, Simpson Thacher, did not want to include by itself in this sort of matters, the attorney defined. Could Cohen enable?
He obliged, and managed to have the fit dismissed. The Wall Street Journal wrote of his exploits. “And my phone started out to ring and the conditions started out to appear in,” Cohen reported.
While he has been named a “pit bull”, a “Doberman” and “your worst nightmare,” among other descriptors of intense litigious ferocity, Cohen was straightforward-likely and genial on a current afternoon when welcoming a customer to his Manhattan business office. At this stage in his vocation, it appears to be, the lion want only occasionally roar.
“I can do the rough things if I need to have to,” he certain.
Some of that toughness arrives from a “lousy” childhood Cohen endured in a 1-bedroom apartment on the border of Bensonhurst and Coney Island. His mother was chronically disappointed that her spouse drove a taxi. She died at 37. Cohen’s father struggled and his sister, Ellen, was taken in by relatives. He graduated from large college early and then labored his way by Alfred College and Fordham regulation university, earning his degree in 1962.
“There are so many of us that arrived from the bowels of Brooklyn, in decreased center course families,” Cohen reflected.
Through his military support Cohen expended considerably of his time at Fort Dix in New Jersey ready for the pay out cell phone so he could call the office environment of Roy Cohn, the notorious previous chief counsel to Senator Joseph McCarthy’s anti-communist investigation committee — and the male who would later on just take a young Donald Trump below his raptor’s wing.
Cohen did not essentially concur with his politics, he explained, but he revered Cohn’s abilities as a litigator. Sooner or later Cohn granted him an job interview, and then a job. “That was definitely the initial door that was opened for me,” Cohen explained of his introduction to a gilded environment of doorman properties and chauffeur-pushed cars and trucks.
The fearsome Cohn also honed a relentlessness bordering on lunatic, berating the youthful law firm one night right after he educated him that he could not obtain a lawful option to a certain shopper issue.
“He started out to scream at me. He said, ‘do you consider shoppers arrive in right here and convey to us that we just cannot do anything? There’s acquired to be a way to do it,’” Cohen recalled. “He stated, ‘do you see it is dim out? I can explain to you it is daytime and I’ll establish it is daytime.’”
Cohen turned a spouse, then left to start his own company. “He had a host of failings, individual failings,” he claimed of Cohn, who was later disbarred.
Meanwhile, the divorce landscape was switching. It was getting much easier to acquire a divorce in states that had extensive demanded evidence of severe fault, ordinarily adultery. (Consequently the unseemly divorce attorney popularity as the snoop hiding in the motel bushes with a Polaroid digicam).
Then in 1980 New York mandated an equitable distribution of marital property. Small business boomed, and it has only grown as the loaded have developed richer. Ivana Trump’s claimed $14m settlement in 1991, for case in point, now seems like a rounding mistake in a Gates estate that incorporates a $55bn philanthropic foundation or an Onassis split that associated litigation in Belgium, Monaco and Brazil.
“It’s a huge organization. It involves persons around who have an understanding of tax, who realize securities, and who realize how to benefit all of these a variety of belongings,” claimed Cohen. His organization, Cohen Clair Lans Greifer Thorpe & Rottenstriech, has a few attorneys who are accredited public accountants, as properly as a community of exterior professionals to help value unique assets. It is only a make any difference of time, Cohen predicted, prior to he hires a cryptocurrency adviser.
For all the monetary sophistication, divorce continues to be a men and women business enterprise — a lesson Cohen imparts to legislation learners at the College of Pennsylvania the place he has taught a course, Anatomy of a Divorce, for the past 17 decades. “You have to be a quasi-psychologist or psychiatrist or mental health professional,” he explained. “Remember, we’re working with men and women at likely the most challenging time of their life.”
Cohen, who endured two of his have divorces, has been married to Stephanie Stiefel, a running director at Neuberger Berman, for 23 many years. (He wears a Cartier trinity band with three interlaced strands). If a single can steer clear of divorce, he strongly advises it. He even wrote a ebook in 2002, Reconcilable Dissimilarities, which promises 7 keys to preserving a relationship.
“I’ve explained this a hundred times: If people today go on to be intimate, that is generally an significant place for me in expressing there may well be one thing there remaining to conserve,” he said, including: “It’s a tricky company.”