“I just got back from Miami,” the Los Angeles attorney Laura Wasser said the other day, as she led me into the offices of her firm, Wasser, Cooperman & Mandles, in Century City. Her long brown hair, worn girlishly loose down her back, twinkled with several strands of tinsel, an adornment that, she explained, had been given to her by her goddaughter during her trip. “All the kids are doing it,” Wasser said. “My friend was, like, ‘Don’t you have a photo shoot when you get back? Wow, you really don’t give a fuck!’ ”
Wasser, who is fifty-four, is one of the highest-profile divorce lawyers in the country. She has represented some of the biggest celebrities of the past generation: Britney Spears during her split with Kevin Federline, Angelina Jolie during her divorce from Brad Pitt, Johnny Depp during his divorce from Amber Heard, and Kim Kardashian during her divorce from Kanye West, among them. The gossip Web site TMZ has dubbed her “the disso queen” for her facility in dissolving the unions of the rich and famous, and she is often featured on that site and on others like it, in conjunction with the relationship travails of her clients. (She begins every morning, she told me, by reading the Daily Mail, “where I get all my news.”) As managing partner at her firm—which was established by her father, Dennis Wasser, also a divorce lawyer—she is currently overseeing about 100 cases. Wasser, Cooperman & Mandles’ offices were featured in Noah Baumbach’s 2019 divorce drama, “Marriage Story,” and Wasser was reportedly an inspiration for Laura Dern’s character in the movie, a kittenish attorney with a killer instinct.
In 2018, Wasser founded It’s Over Easy, an online divorce service. Earlier this year the venture was bought by Divorce.com, which has also named Wasser its “chief of divorce evolution.” Whether in her dealings with her celebrity clients, or in her role facilitating digital divorces for the common man, she’s concerned, she told me, with “the evolution of dissolution,” or how to make divorce, if not completely painless, then a bit less painful for all parties involved. “I want to normalize it a little,” she said. “It’s happening, and we need to make it better.” Wasser herself was married only once, briefly, in her twenties. She now has two sons, aged seventeen and twelve, whom she shares with two ex-partners, neither of whom she was married to, though she has warm relationships with both of them. “We’re a family,” she told me. Our conversation has been condensed and edited for clarity.
You’ve been practicing family law for how many years now?
Twenty-seven, twenty-eight. I graduated from law school in 1994. A long fucking time. [Laughs.]
How have you seen the American family change during that time?
They say the law is always the last thing to change. We are definitely seeing fewer people getting married, or people getting married older. More families are having children without necessarily getting married, and then, of course—and I think this is great—we’re seeing [blended] families. I have two kids, with two different men. I wasn’t married to either one of them. I got married once—it was great. I was twenty-five. I looked great. I’ll never look better than I did at twenty-five at the Bel-Air Hotel. But I do think that the way people perceive marriage and family has changed, and, for my purposes, what I would love to have happen is to be able to effectuate that in terms of family law.
So, you think people are less likely to marry? They might have some kind of agreement, either oral or an understanding, have children maybe, but not necessarily go to the courthouse?
I think people are less likely to let the state become involved in their relationship. We still have people who have the princess-bride wedding dream, but I also think people are much more willing to accept, OK, this ended, we’re not dying at forty-five anymore, we’re dying at a hundred and something , and so it’s much harder to say, till death do us part. I think people are much more accepting of the idea of divorce and a next chapter, and more importantly the idea of combining a family. And I think that’s really important because, frankly, the more people to love your kids, the better.
You say you want to see this recognized in the legal system. What would that mean?
I would like to see something where, if people aren’t married, maybe they can still get a tax break if they’ve got kids together. I would like to see things with health care and hospitals, where you don’t need to get married in order to get a certain kind of insurance or to be next of kin when the loved one and the father of your three children is on his deathbed. So it takes a while, but also, it’s taken a while for divorce to change. If you ask, what’s the biggest change in my world, it’s been doing things remotely, and doing things online, like with Divorce.com.
You’re the chief of divorce evolution for Divorce.com. What does that mean?
There are two reasons why it’s so hard to get divorced. First is that we, divorce attorneys, make a ton of money by spouting all these code sections and ta-da-da-da-da. But the other reason is that the founding fathers didn’t want people to get divorced. It was sacrilegious, and if you were a divorced woman in society in the eighteen-hundreds you were pelted with rocks or whatever. But that’s not the case anymore, and if you look at the statistics, how can it still be so taboo? How can it still be so difficult to do? How do we still need to be hiring attorneys at a thousand dollars an hour?
Is that your rate?
Uh-huh. I know. [Laughs.] But I try to be really good.
I’m sure you’re worth every penny. [Laughs.]
But I say to clients all the time, the more you argue, the more conflict there is, the more I get paid. I drive a Porsche. I’m wearing Alaïa. I’m good. Let’s work this out and get you through this. And, look, there are colleagues of mine who do not have that feeling. I say this all the time: he’s making money off churning those fees and arguing over Wednesday nights or what school, or vaccinations—that’s been a big one in the past couple of years.
Or TikTok. [Laughs.] Sorry.
Right! [Laughs.] But if you educate people, and they understand what’s coming for them in any given state where they can live . . . I think people kind of espouse this more with custody. I have fewer custody battles now because I think people start going to some kind of therapist or family counselor as they’re splitting up, because they know I’m not gonna know what’s best for their kid, and some dude in a black robe who’s never met their kid and is probably forty years older than them for sure won’t know, so let’s figure it out amongst ourselves. So that needle has moved a bit, but other needles haven’t moved, and I want to figure out how to do that. If that’s the one thing I can do on this planet besides raising my kids, that’ll be good.