Divorce attorney Nancy Van Tine likes to trash talk about celebrities. Like Gwyneth Paltrow’s conscious uncoupling, rumors of Jay Z’s infidelity, Caitlyn Jenner’s transition, and other affairs. It’s not all idle gossip — more like illustrative commentary about domestic relations topics, or as she puts it, “What you’ve never thought you’d need to know about divorce.” Van Tine, 71, a partner at Burns and Levinson LLP in Boston, blogs on Divorce Law Monitor about these stars, as well as subjects such as ‘gray divorce’ (seniors), interstate divorce, and military divorce. The Globe spoke with Van Tine about the nasty — and nice — aspects of ending marriages.
“No one wants to pull the divorce trigger right before Thanksgiving or Christmas. But my phone is always ringing off the hook [around] the first of the year, as well as from Valentine’s Day to March. Divorces also peak after school starts and ends. People want to start anew, although divorces are never cookie-cutter. Divorces are hugely traumatic for the people involved, and as a lawyer, I always try to get the nuances right. I handle approximately 30 cases at a time, and they are not for the faint of heart. Divorce is almost always financially and emotionally fraught, and I need to be part legal savant, part therapist, part tax nerd, and part inspiring life coach to help my clients navigate through the difficulties of divorce — and what comes after.
“Imagine fighting over a stuffed parrot, horse semen, or geese. These were all expensive court battles that I was involved in, and it all comes down to control. I like to call it the Salad Spinner War, after one of my first cases that involved a short-term marriage with a wealthy Brahmin gentleman and his younger wife from abroad. We came to a fair division of assets and property, and because I was young and stupid, I agreed to go to the house to help divvy up miscellaneous items. We went through the antiques, oriental rugs, lamps, and furniture, and then came to the kitchen, where they started arguing over a $15 salad spinner. They fought vehemently, and my client finally won, but when we left, she thrust the salad spinner at me and said, ‘I didn’t want the damn thing, anyway.’ There’s a salad spinner in every case — it could be the cat, the couch, or whether the kids come to visit at 5:30 or 6:30 p.m. But I love running into someone five to 10 years down the road and seeing them happy and moved on in life.
“Having been married for 50 years myself, I believe that a good marriage is pure blind luck in finding the right person. But the bottom line is that I remain calm and professional, even in the middle of a heated trial.
“I once had another lawyer throw a file of papers across the table at me and slice the cornea in my eye. And sometimes I’ve even gotten death threats. That’s the least favorite part of my job — the unnecessary nastiness that comes with it.”