Lessons on divorce law from the most famous bachelor in the world

Lessons on divorce law from the most famous bachelor in the world

Hugh Hefner was a controversial figure for most of his life. He donated millions to charitable campaigns...but also created a reality TV show about dating three models simultaneously whose ages added together were still lower than his own.

As the founder of the most famous adult entertainment business in history, you might expect the Playboy creator to be well acquainted with scurrilous run-ins with family law. But you’d be wrong.

Hef was surprisingly well behaved during his handful of relationships, which gives us a chance to take a break from covering Brangelina’s mud slinging to discuss some more sensible family law issues.

“No fault” divorces skip the blame game

Hugh Hefner spent two years overseas as a reporter for the US Army during World War II, and when he returned home, his longtime college girlfriend admitted to cheating on him while he was away.

Hugh claims that devastation was ultimately what led to the creation of his Playboy empire, but the couple tied the knot anyways. During their marriage, Mrs. Hefner encouraged her husband to “become involved” with other women to lessen her guilt.

This approach to marriage didn’t go over well in the 1950s, and ten years after saying “I do,” the swinging Hefners were divorced.

Did their infidelity have any legal consequences when it came time to divvy up their assets? No, but it could have.

At the time of Hugh and Mildred’s split, every state in the US had laws that forbade divorces from being settled until one of the two parties was proven to be at fault. As you can imagine, this often had a tremendous impact on how judges decided to divide up property.

Today, every state (including Washington) has some form of “no fault” divorce law, which allows you to dissolve a marriage without providing a reason.

So, to answer one of our most frequently asked questions, no, your spouse cannot deny you a divorce if you don’t present a justification.

Palimony: A made-up legal term with real teeth

Hugh spent 30 years “living it up” at the Playboy Mansion after his first marriage. Although most people would probably assume the only reason to visit family court during this time would be a paternity suit -- they’d be wrong.

Playboy Playmate Carrie Leigh lived with Hefner in the Mansion for five years before filing a $35 million “palimony” suit against him. This type of case -- an informal portmanteau of “pal” and “alimony” -- arises when someone feels that a relationship was long and serious enough to constitute something akin to a legal marriage.

“He promised to marry me, he promised to have a child with me, he promised to support me,” said the woman dating a man who regularly referred to himself as the most prominent bachelor of the 20th Century, and who lived in a mansion with around-the-clock festivities.

Palimony suits were all the rage in ’80s, but most of them (including Leigh’s) failed to get a settlement.

In our neck of the woods, Washington recognizes unmarried couples in “committed intimate relationships.” But as we’ve written about before, there is no strict definition. Usually, it takes a written agreement or compelling evidence of a long-term, exclusive relationship for a judge to order the division of assets.

It was pretty clear to anyone who knew Hef that the words “long-term” and “exclusive” didn’t mean a thing to him unless they described one of his salacious soirees.

Separated but not divorced

At 63 years old, Hugh finally felt it was time to settle down. He married his second wife (36 years younger than he) and turned the Mansion into a family-friendly estate.

Kimberley and Hefner had two children together and almost managed to convince the world that their improbable marriage was going to work.

Nine years after getting hitched the couple legally separated. Kimberley moved into a house adjacent to the Playboy Mansion and the family of four remained relatively drama-free throughout the 11 years of separation.

Some couples choose legal separation over divorce for religious reasons, while others go this route because they believe reconciliation is possible in the future. Considering this was when Hef started dating 19-year-old twins and a 23-year-old playmate, this case was probably about the money.

Hefner had proposed a divorce when they first decided to separate, but seeing as Kimberley was receiving $250,000 per year as part of the couple’s prenuptial agreement, she wasn’t in any rush to amend her arrangement.

In 2009, Kimberley sued Hugh for $5 million and he finally decided to push for the divorce more aggressively. Proving once again that he might be the most patient divorce client we’ve ever written about on this blog.

Three family law cases in 91 years

Considering Hugh Hefner spent most of his life upending the way people think about relationships, his marital history is fairly uneventful. Don’t forget, our list of celebrities with the most divorces starts at six and goes up from there.

So what can you learn from the world’s most famous bachelor?

  1. People will watch a reality TV show about anything. Two-point-five-million people tuned in weekly to follow an 83-year-old man’s love life.
  2. Divorce court isn’t about placing blame, it’s about resolving family issues.
  3. Common law marriages (or committed intimate relationships) aren’t black-and-white cases.
  4. Legal separation can be a healthy alternative to divorce.

If you need an attorney to help you settle a divorce, the Buckingham, LaGrandeur & Williams team can help. Call today.