In a year replete with high-profile separations, no breakup has fueled more intense speculation than the kind that has erupted on the Internet in the days since the announcement that musician Joe Jonas had filed for divorce from Game of Thrones star Sophie Turner.
Much of the discussion has revolved around how the tabloid reporting of the announcement was, as Vox’s Rebecca Jennings said, “tinged with misogny.” Stories were loaded with anonymous claims from sources close to the couple that the conflict stems from Turner’s alleged absence from the family as a mother.
TikTok gossip around the idea that these stories were planted by Jonas’ team reached new heights on Saturday night, when Jonas seemingly addressed the divorce proceedings and media frenzy at a concert in Los Angeles. Entertainment Weekly reported that before performing “Hesitate” (a song written about his relationship with Turner), Jonas said to the audience, “It’s been a crazy week… I just wanna say, look: if you don’t hear it from these lips, don’t believe it. Okay? Thank you, everyone, for your love and support. Me and my family love you guys.”
While it isn’t our place to add to conjecture around the circumstances of the Jonas/Turner separation, and regardless of whether Jonas’ comments were genuinely intended to encourage fans not to believe the tabloid narrative or not, the last week still stands out as a teaching moment for divorce etiquette.
If a judge believes you are badmouthing your spouse, it affects their perception of you, and can impact [their ruling].
“In any divorce proceeding, it is incredibly difficult for any party to not respond to certain statements, particularly when your character, ability to parent, and your very essence is being attacked in a courtroom,” said divorce and family attorney CiCi Van Tine. “It’s even worse when it is aired in the Court of Public Opinion. Joe Jonas’ statement at his concert… while appearing to be diffusing the rumor mill, is unwise and can directly impact his reliability, the parties’ incomes, a judge’s perception of either party, and the overall division of assets.”
When divorce lawyers meet with high-profile or high-net worth clients such as actors and musicians, the first piece of advice given to them is that any comments they make about the divorce will be made public, which has the potential to hurt one’s family, in addition to their case.
“If a judge believes you are badmouthing your spouse, it affects their perception of you, and can impact [their ruling],” says Van Tine. “Statements that can negatively impact your spouse’s career can affect whether support is provided, or whether a disparate division of assets is equitable.”
When it comes to the comment Jonas made during his concert, it’s nominal neutrality doesn’t change the fact that it was unwise.
“[It] was made in an attempt to deflect from anonymous sources making comments on his behalf,” Van Tine notes. “At face value, Joe Jonas’ statement itself would not impact his case. However, if it is discovered that the anonymous statements about Sophie Turner were actually made by Joe Jonas, and thus should be believed as true, it can impact his case, the judge’s perception of him, and Sophie’s income.”
A judge will take all such statements into consideration, so it can be difficult to predict how even the most innocuous comments might backfire down the road. Van Tine asserts that the best response is no response, despite the challenges that this approach inevitably brings for someone in the public eye.
“In this situation,” she says, “it would have been best for Jonas to have adopted the ‘silence is golden’ mantra.”
Nothing makes a divorce case more contentious, and acrimonious than ones where the emotions have spiraled out of control.
If you and your brothers aren’t in an extremely famous band, or if you yourself aren’t a former Game of Thrones cast member, these best practices still apply during divorce. Even without the added pressure of public scrutiny, public commentary on your own proceedings has the potential to end nastily for anyone.
“Think about it like this: When you’re going through a divorce, you are going through one of the top five most stressful events in someone’s lifetime [and] emotions on both sides are super high,” says Divorce attorney Dennis Vetrano. He adds that many mental health professionals suggest that, during a divorce, people are two-to-three degrees away from their baseline personality. “With that in mind, anything you say that could possibly be misconstrued as negative or attacking will ramp up those emotions, and nothing makes a divorce case more contentious, and acrimonious than ones where the emotions have spiraled out of control.”
With all the intersecting factors impacted by a divorce — such as finances, child custody, and asset distribution — it can be difficult to know how best to interact with your children during the proceedings.
“Be sure that anything your kids hear from your mouth about the process is innocuous and positive about the person on the other side, if anything,” says Vetrano. “While you want to be honest and open with your kids so they don’t feel like they’re left in the dark with questions unanswered, it’s always advisable to consult with a professional and consider a counselor for your kids as you move through the process.”
A counselor can be an invaluable ally to both spouses, guiding the family on how to sift through information that needs to be communicated to your kids and information that could be damaging to them as they move forward. Vetrano has two pieces of key advice that he offers when any client with children goes through a divorce.
“First, remember that at one point you thought well enough of that person on the other side to commit your life to them and bear children with them, and no matter how you feel about them they will always be mommy or daddy to your kids,” he says.
The second is a question that acts as a compass for all divorce proceedings impacting a family, whether they play out on the global stage and all across the internet, or are confined to a single household: What do you want your kids to remember about your divorce 10 years from now? Allow that question to inform your decision making and you’ll make better choices.