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Rupert Murdoch's aim: A divorce with little fodder for tabloids

Rupert Murdoch, chairman and CEO of News Corporation, arrives with his wife Wendi Deng at the 85th Academy Awards in Hollywood, California i
Rupert Murdoch, chairman and CEO of News Corporation, arrives with his wife Wendi Deng at the 85th Academy Awards in Hollywood, California i

By Karen Freifeld

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Rupert Murdoch appears to be seeking a quiet divorce, based on the lawyer he has chosen and the absence of incendiary allegations, people with knowledge of the case and experience of high-profile New York divorces said.

Divorce papers filed by the media mogul on Thursday comprised a short document saying the marriage is irretrievably broken, according to a person with knowledge of the filing.

The document, which formally starts a divorce action under New York's no-fault law, contains no details of wrongdoing, said the person, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

That, his choice of lawyer and a series of pre- and post-nuptial agreements all favor a strategy for ending his 14-year marriage to Wendi Deng Murdoch as quickly and quietly as possible, the experts said.

"While she might try to get more money somehow, and he might be willing to give it to her because he's got so much money, it seems to me she's bound by all those agreements," said John Vassallo, who has represented rock star Mick Jagger and movie star Harvey Keitel in divorce proceedings.

Ira Garr, representing Rupert Murdoch, was referred to the case through a lawyer at News Corp, the Murdoch media empire, the person with knowledge of the divorce filing said. He may have been hired because of a reputation for settling divorces quietly and because he is friendly with Pamela Sloan, the lawyer representing Wendi Deng, the person said.

Among his previous divorce clients were businessman Donald Trump's former wife Ivana Trump and federal judge Kimba Wood.

Sloan's firm, Aronson Mayefsky & Sloan, helped represent actress Katie Holmes in her divorce from actor Tom Cruise. She is also known for achieving high-profile divorces with a minimum of public fuss, according to other New York divorce lawyers.

"Pam is not somebody to call up the New York Post," Vassallo said in reference to the Murdoch-owned tabloid known for its gossip column and screaming headlines.

PRE-NUP, POST-NUP

While New York law almost guarantees a court will grant a divorce, the couple could still fight about finances, who gets their New York apartment and over their two children, Grace, 11, and Chloe, 9, including custody and child support.

Deng has yet to make any kind of public response to her husband's filing. Steven Rubenstein, a spokesman for Murdoch, declined to comment on whether the split could be resolved amicably.

Financial matters are likely to be governed by the agreements the couple signed. "New York is very favorable toward enforcing pre-nups," said William Zabel, an expert on such agreements.

In the Murdochs' case, they signed a pre-nuptial agreement in 1999, in which Sloan represented Wendi Murdoch, and they signed two post-nuptial agreements in 2002 and 2004, the person with knowledge of the case said.

Some divorce lawyers said that if the couple have not agreed on a proposed settlement, there is always the prospect of a public battle, if not one in the courtroom.

There is the possibility that "one wants something the other doesn't want to give," said Miami lawyer Jason Marks, who has represented celebrity clients including baseball player Alex Rodriguez.

The two girls have stakes in the family trust that holds the Murdochs' share of News Corp, but they do not have voting rights, unlike Rupert Murdoch's four grown children from his first two marriages.

The family trust owned 38.4 percent of the voting stock in News Corp as of April 30. Rupert Murdoch owns an additional 1 percent in voting shares. A source familiar with the matter said that Deng does not own News Corp stock on her own or have any voting rights.

In New York, claiming irretrievable breakdown for more than six months is an easy path to an uncontested divorce. Until the law was changed in October 2010, the state only allowed divorce by claiming fault against the other spouse, such as cruel and inhuman treatment, adultery or abandonment.

If the case proceeds without a settlement, it will be assigned at random to one of the matrimonial judges in New York state court in Manhattan. A preliminary conference will be scheduled several weeks after the judge is assigned.

If the case is not resolved before then, the Murdochs will be required to appear in court with their lawyers.

Daniel Jaffe, who represented Rupert Murdoch's second wife, Anna, when they split up after more than 30 years of marriage, said he hoped the divorce would be done "as amicably as the last divorce and settlement was done."

Jaffe said that despite the absence of a pre-nuptial agreement, the whole thing was done in less than a year.

"We finished that divorce in 10 to 11 months," said Jaffe, who is based in Beverly Hills, California. "We had no court appearances. Everything was disclosed amicably."

(Reporting By Karen Freifeld; Editing by Eddie Evans, Martin Howell and Peter Cooney)

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