When reality TV collides with real life it can be a real mess.
Some wildly successful reality TV series manage to capture the zeitgeist in ways that even the people behind the show wouldn’t have expected. That’s the case with Netflix’s “My Orthodox Life,” a show that has had an amazing run on the streaming service.
The show is about a matriarch, Julia Haart, who leaves her Hassidic life and ends up becoming a fashion mogul. There are a lot more levels to this reality gem, but that’s the Reader’s Digest version.
As we follow the new life that she blazed for herself and her “adult” children, we learn that much if not all of it was made possible by her marriage to a billionaire-slash-internarional man of mystery who set her up as CEO (and co-owner, she claimed) of a modeling agency – because what other kind of business would a former Hasid run?
Evidently, their current reality is far less shiny than reality TV. Julia Haart filed for divorce from Silvio Scaglia when he fired her as CEO of Elite World Group, but not solely for that reason. From the torrent of media reports, this divorce is going from messy to messier to super messy, with the current venues for this fight club being the modeling agency and the Manhattan penthouse where the couple lived.
Haart had claimed that she was in fact a co-owner of Elite World Group, which would have been an asset worth millions of dollars. On Thursday, in a Delaware Court of Chancery, Haart lost that claim and has no ownership rights in the company, as reported by Page Six.
This loss is on top of recent reports that Haart, who agreed with Scaglia’s request to sell the penthouse, now refuses to leave, allow showings, or essentially allow it to be sold.
From a legal perspective, what rights do the parties have when a marriage is being dissolved and only one spouse wants to sell the house?
Adriana González, a Palm Beach lawyer, explains that:
“In New York and here in Florida – states that are equitable division rather than community property – many factors are considered in dividing property. How long the couple has been married, income, alimony, and the future financial position of each spouse is considered.”
So it’s far from an automatic thing that a $50 million Manhattan apartment or Palm Beach mansion would be equally divided in a divorce, rather, the law seeks an equitable division based on the totality of the circumstances.
That division doesn’t look at an apartment or car or shared bank account in isolation, but rather looks at everything and approaches the situation as broadly as possible.
In this situation, we only know what reality TV lets us see, and we might not even see that for long, as Scaglia has filed a cease and desist order against Netflix to stop the show. His argument is that the show itself became a vehicle for Haart’s propaganda against him, but isn’t that part of the bargain of reality TV? That the public gets to decide which characters are the most and least sympathetic and believable? That’s the rub with the genre – it’s not about truth or fiction but rather about viewers buying into the narrative fictions the show creates.
So if we run with those narratives, we have a wildly successful man who “rescued” a (literally) poor woman in distress. As Julia Haart left the Hassidic community and began to make a life for herself, meeting and marrying Silvio Scaglia was portrayed as not simply raising Julia up one or two rings on the social and wealth ladders, but thousands.
And now the narrative degrades itself to portray Julia as the squatter, the woman who tried to steal half a company, can’t pay her bills but won’t leave the apartment so it can be sold for $65 million and give Scaglia a tidy $9 million profit after having owned it for less than four years.
Katie Couric recently painted a different narrative about the life of Julia Haart and how she landed where she has today. Detailing a life of abuse at the hands of men, Haart told Couric:
“…after I became creative director of La Perla and then co-owner and CEO of Elite World Group, that I would no longer be afraid of men, no longer controlled by men. I can no longer be abused by men. And then when all of this happened, I realized I’m not there yet.”
No matter how public a reality TV divorce becomes, it doesn’t change the law. Yet the added obstacles inherent in the nature of celebrity and the pressure of public perception can complicate the process. In another huge celebrity lawsuit wrapping up this week, that involving Johnny Depp and Amber Heard, there was a superb quote earlier in the trial from Depp:
“One day you’re Cinderella and then in zero point six seconds you’re Quasimodo. I didn’t deserve that and neither did my children.”
This is the unorthodox nature of celebrity divorce and the complexities of relationships not only lived under a public spotlight but ones in which public perception can change in an instant.
About Aron Solomon
A Pulitzer Prize-nominated writer, Aron Solomon, JD, is the Chief Legal Analyst for Esquire Digital and the Editor of Today’s Esquire. He has taught entrepreneurship at McGill University and the University of Pennsylvania, and was elected to Fastcase 50, recognizing the top 50 legal innovators in the world. Aron has been featured in Forbes, CBS News, CNBC, USA Today, ESPN, TechCrunch, The Hill, BuzzFeed, Fortune, Venture Beat, The Independent, Fortune China, Yahoo!, ABA Journal, Law.com, The Boston Globe, NewsBreak, and many other leading publications.