“Sacked!” I’m definitely not a regular New York Post reader, but that headline – about the recently announced divorce between Gisele Bundchen and Tom Brady – got me. “Brady takes another hit as Gisele splits,” it screamed. The cover depicted a mocked-up image of Bundchen tackling Brady while holding up her divorce decree like a Vince Lombardi Trophy.
It’s not that we didn’t know the split between the NFL’s star quarterback and his Victoria’s Secret model wife was coming. It’s how it happened that’s surprising.
The couple announced last week that they had filed for divorce and reached a settlement after months of speculation about their 13-year marriage. The latest reports say the two had an “ironclad prenup” agreement.
Trust me — as a divorce coach with clients across the country and founder of a singles support group, I know that oodles of women are jealous of Gisele’s ability to “split” so decisively, so quickly.
“That’s crazy — how is this possible?” asked Christine, a member of my group. “I was in court for two years with my ex!”
As a divorcee myself, I get it. Let me put it this way: if you haven’t been to divorce court, consider yourself lucky. If you have, then you probably know that a scary number of women (and men) end up spending thousands – even multiple six-figure sums – on their divorce and custody battles in a system most attorneys I know call “broken.”
As taxpayers, we all pay for our family courts’ dysfunction and many of the social services needed to deal with the aftermath – especially trauma suffered by parents and children.
In my experience with hundreds of women in court, money and power often prevail. In many cases, it’s the men who hold both – but not with Gisele and Tom. She’s got just as much money to fight and that’s what makes it delightful for us women on the sidelines. We may be jealous, yet part of us is also rooting for her louder than the Bucaneers’ Cheerleaders yell for Brady.
When this game is over, however, America still has to face a family court system that does not always protect women or children. Sadly, Gisele is a unicorn.
The woman who founded a national organization called Custody Peace knows this all too well. She cannot reveal her identity due to fear that her ex-husband, who she’s still battling in court, will retaliate.
“It’s an absolute crisis,” she told me. “Any type of abuse in your relationship reaches a whole new level when you get into the family court system – or can even start when abuse was not present in the marriage. What people don’t realize is you’re required to respond to what is often an abuser’s vexatious litigation within a certain time or you are held in contempt. That makes women’s lives like living in prison, constantly defending themselves in court.”
Attorney and mediator Susan Guthrie, who hosts the nationally acclaimed Divorce and Beyond podcast, has spent more than 30 years working in this industry.
“For the vast majority of American women facing divorce, Gisele’s situation, at least financially, is markedly different,” said Guthrie, noting reports that Gisele is worth approximately $400 million compared to Tom’s estimated $250 million net worth. “Many women going through divorce do not have the financial wherewithal to support themselves and their children, as Gisele does, without seeking support from their former spouse by way of alimony and/or child support.”
What else does Gisele have that many women don’t? Well, her own career, which is something too many women give up, only to find themselves at a severe disadvantage during and after divorce. I often coach these women.
“The bottom line is that the societal norm of women giving up their careers in order to become stay-at-home parents has negatively affected women for decades,” Guthrie told me. “There is almost no way that a woman can reestablish her career after having been the primary parent for any length of time and that financial hit is not fully compensated under the law.” Although alimony is intended to help bridge the gap post-divorce, it creates a negative dependency upon a former spouse and often results in ongoing conflict for years after the marriage has ended.
The founder of Custody Peace said Gisele’s case illustrates how important it is to have financial independence. “Most women are taught that marriage is the end goal but if it is — and that marriage goes wrong – there’s no place to go,” she said. “Financial freedom takes that element of control out of the equation and freedom is exactly what Gisele is asking for. Unfortunately, for women who don’t have millions, court becomes a nightmare that takes over their lives, wreaking emotional, financial and even physical damage.”
There’s nothing to suggest Gisele Bundchen and Tom Brady were in an abusive relationship. But when women are, it takes them on average seven times to leave – and one of the reasons is a lack of financial resources. A lot of my clients are in Fairfield County, Connecticut, where they live lavish lifestyles compared to most Americans. But many are stay-at-home moms, have no access to the money and have to beg for an “allowance” like a child.
So how do you protect yourself? Well, the final factor facilitating the power couple’s quick split may have been that prenup – and it’s a good idea.
“We have definitely seen an increased demand for prenuptial agreements,” Cary Mogerman of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers told me. “I just think people are more aware of them than maybe they were ten or twenty years ago. Many people would like to have the perceived tidiness of a prenup agreement in place in case things go awry – something that will tell them how a divorce would be handled.”
Postnuptials signed after a marriage can also be key. They are agreements that can recognize factors, like one party leaving their career to care for the kids, and protect the sacrificing partner financially in the event of a divorce.
Look, nobody sets out to get divorced – certainly Tom and Gisele didn’t. But, in the end, the couple isn’t so unique.
“Gisele’s reported dissatisfaction with Tom’s preoccupation with his career is not so different from what many American women going through divorce court,” Guthrie said. “A spouse that makes decisions that affect the entire family without consideration for how that decision will impact the family and the relationship is a complaint that I have heard many times as a divorce attorney.”
Gisele got her divorce. Now let’s reform our family court system so other women — and men — can get theirs easily too.
Amy Polacko is a divorce coach and journalist