Stuck at home for long hours a day working, taking care of kids possibly, or just bored. These things can lead to an increase in couples finding out things about each other they just can’t stand or can’t live with anymore. Well, during the COVID-19 pandemic, it is happening, and at an alarming rate, both here in New York and across the United States.
Enter in divorce attorney and best-selling author of “Negotiate Like You M.A.T.T.E.R” and “Breaking Free: A Step-by-Step Divorce Guide to Emotional, Physical and Spiritual Freedom”, Rebecca Zung, who has seen this increase firsthand with a huge uptick in clients of all sorts, including celebrities.
The Levity Ball spoke to Rebecca from her offices in California about the pandemic, getting into law, the cost of divorce these days, the power of social media during a divorce, working with Arnold Schwarzenegger’s family, why she sends her kids to summer camp here in New York and more fun topics!
When did you first discover that you had a passion for representing people legally?
Well, to be honest, when I first became a lawyer, it was because I had 3 small children at home and was a divorced single mom. I had gotten married at 19 and had 3 kids by the time I was 23 then got divorced at 29. That’s when i decided law school was my ticket to putting a roof over my kids’ head and food in their mouths. It wasn’t until I started working as a divorce attorney that I saw the major impact I was able to have on my people’s lives. That’s when I really developed the passion for it.
How did you figure out what niche of law you wanted to concentrate on?
It was kismet really. I thought I wanted to do corporate law. But then I met a woman lawyer at a banquet for attorneys while I was still in law school, who was, at the time, one of the top family law attorneys in the state. I happened to be seated at her table and struck up a conversation. Then we had a twilight zone moment. Both of us were half Chinese. Both of our fathers were from Shanghai and were anesthesiologists, both of our mothers were operating room nurses and that’s how our parents met. Both of us had had 3 children and gotten divorced before going to law school. And it went on and on. So she hired me to be an intern at her firm and I stayed for many years after I became a lawyer. It was meant to be.
You have a fun connection to New York, as your kids go to summer camp here alongside Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones’ kids. Being based in California, what about New York attracted you to send your kids here each summer?
Yes, so at the time, we were living in Florida and sending our daughter to camp in New York. We found the camp through family friends whose daughter was our daughter’s best friend. Both of our daughters had been involved in musical theatre since they were 5 years old and lived and breathed it. So they started going there when they were like 11 years old and went until they were 16 and aged out. It truly was just one of the best camps in the country for performing arts. All of the kids who went there were crazy talented and super passionate about anything performing arts related.
And you are no stranger to celebrities in general. You have represented a lot including working with Arnold Schwarzenegger’s family. Are working with celebrities and being in that spotlight easier or harder for a lawyer?
I would say it was definitely harder if I’m being honest. I remember, after I had met Arnold for the first time, and was flying back to Florida, my co-counsel looked at me while we were in the airport with laser intensity and said “we have to win this case.” I mean, of course we always want to wind and do our very best for every single client but the stakes are higher for sure for us as lawyers of course in high profile cases. If you lose then everyone knows. The way I approach every case when I am going to trial though is that the only thing I can control is the preparation. Then it’s in the hands of the judge and judges make mistakes sometimes, or don’t agree with you, or just simply see the positions differently than you do. You can’t control that. You just have to give it your all and do the best you can, then let the rest flow.
When you come to New York yourself, what are your favorite things to do personally?
I love New York at Christmas time. The decorations and ice skating in Rockefeller Center, the Rockettes Christmas show, and the Holiday Window displays. Reminds me of what Christmas might have been in a more bucolic time, full of magic and wonder.
What is your advice to couples who are having issues during these COVID-19 times and thinking about splitting up?
Figure out right away what you are going to be able to agree upon. The judicial system was backed up before and now it is worse. I’m hearing horror stories of trials being set a year out sometimes. So the more you can utilize resources to help you come to a resolution yourselves (and even with the help of lawyers), the faster it will go. It will save you a lot in attorneys’ fees too.
What is the average cost of a divorce these days?
The average cost is something like $15,000. That’s really a low number though I think. That number encompasses even rural places where an attorneys’ hourly rate is much lower than in other places. BUT and the big huge BUT here is that if you’re dealing with a narcissist on the other side, you can expect the cost to be a minimum of 4-5x that rate. Many are over $100,000 when narcissists are involved.
Have you seen more divorce cases because of COVID-19?
Yes, there was a huge spike over the summer just after the first major lockdown. I had seen reports that divorce filings were up 34% in June 2020. It seems to have started to level back down again a bit.
In a day and age where we all live on social media, can social media posts be used against a person in a divorce filing?
Absolutely. I have definitely used social media against people in divorce cases. For example, I had a guy on the other side who said he no money to pay alimony, but then pictures surfaced of him on vacation with his new paramour. That didn’t play well for him in court.
And final question: What do you want to be remembered for overall when people look back at your cases, books, programs, etc.?
I want people to remember me as someone who was a powerful expression of what’s possible; a conversation for possibility. And that I was a conduit for people to gain access to knowledge, methods and strategies which empowered them to live their lives authentically and feel transformed so they could create new beginnings and new futures.