Legally Blind? Reese Skips the Prenup

From "Legally Blonde" to "Vanity Fair," Reese Witherspoon has made a career out of playing savvy women who defy the stereotype of a dumb blonde.

So one might think Hollywood's highest-paid actress would regret her reported failure to ask for a prenuptial agreement when she married actor Ryan Philippe in 1999, top divorce lawyers say.

"In this day and age, particularly if you're the greater wage-earner, you ought to see a psychiatrist if you don't get one," said famed divorce lawyer Raoul Felder, who's guided Rudy Giuliani and Robin Givens through their splits.

"Maybe they used to make the same money, but she's outdistanced him and now he could get a big piece of her fortune," Felder said.

The couple, who announced their separation on Tuesday, reportedly did not have a prenup, which details in advance of the wedding how marital assets will be split in case of a divorce.

There's a vast difference in their finances: Witherspoon commands at least $20 million per film while Phillippe earns about $2.5 million per movie, insiders say.

Under the law in California, where they both reside, earnings are split 50/50, which could put a major pinch on Witherspoon's pocketbook.

To prepare for those painful negotiations with Phillippe, Witherspoon is reportedly consulting with top Hollywood divorce lawyer Robert Kaufman.

Kaufman advised Jennifer Aniston, Roseanne, and Lisa Marie Presley in their headline-making splits.

"It was reckless on her part," said Harriet Newman Cohen, a lawyer and author of "The Divorce Book for Men and Women."

"It was reckless because she had the ability to have him sign an agreement that everything she made during the marriage was hers and was not considered marital assets. She could have had a very plain vanilla 'Go away! It was nice knowing you!'" Cohen said.

Reckless and rare. Witherspoon joins Madonna and Jessica Simpson as one of the few women in Hollywood who declined to sign prenuptial agreements before getting married.

In Simpson's case, it made sense at the time since then-husband Nick Lachey was outearning her at that point in their careers.

That decision backfired, though. When the "Newlyweds" couple split up last year, she was worth significantly more than him.

Though long the prerogative of wealthy men, from Hollywood stars like Tom Cruise and Michael Douglas to business tycoons Ron Perelman and Donald Trump, the prenup is fast becoming de rigeur for middle-class couples and women who outearn their husbands.

Arlene Dubin, a matrimonial lawyer and author of "Prenups for Lawyers," estimates that up to 10 percent of couples on their first marriage have signed such agreements.

"It's basically a no-brainer because the divorce rate is so high and the laws are so murky from state to state," she said.

Sheila Riesel, a partner at the New York law firm Blank Rome LLP, says that the number of the firm's clients seeking prenups has doubled in the last five years.

"More and more women are moneyed spouses. They're earning more than their husbands, and they want prenups," Riesel said.

And they're more likely to need them: Women who outearn their husbands have higher divorce rates, according to several studies.

"When women make significantly more than their husbands, that does jack the divorce rate up," said David Popenoe, co-director of the National Marriage Project at Rutgers University. "That effect is diminishing over time, but it's still there. There are many reasons for it. For one thing, the guys get a little uncertain. It doesn't make them feel so good. For all time, men have been breadwinners."

Though the overall number of women seeking prenups is increasing, they're still more loath than their male counterparts to sign such agreements.

"Women are more romantic than men," Felder said. "You see some wealthy women who have no designs on a man's money. They don't see marriage in those terms."

And men who earn less than their spouses are more likely to see the prenup as a blow to their ego and less likely to sign such an agreement.

Even when women are the ones seeking prenups, they seem more willing to negotiate the terms.

"When I represent a wealthier woman, she's ready to make a deal while the poorer man acts like he's got leverage and he'll hold out not to get the prenup," Dubin said.

"Women are socialized to be peacemakers, and boys are raised to fight it out."

As for Witherspoon, she's reportedly ready to reach an amicable deal for the sake of the couple's two children.

Last March, when rumors first surfaced about their marital troubles, she said that the two had attended marriage counseling and emphasized their concern for their son and daughter.

"We see our marriage not as a free ride but as a partnership you work on," Witherspoon said. "You need to discuss things and be open about how to make each other feel good and happy."