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Tom Cruise stands to gain if Katie Holmes divorce moves to California

It would likely be in Tom Cruise's interest to having his divorce proceedings with Katie Holmes moved from New York to California, legal experts said.

The experts said California divorce tends to allow more public disclosure than New York. But California courts also tend to favor joint custody in which both parents get a voice on how children are raised.

Lisa Helfend Meyer, a prominent Los Angeles family law attorney, said that as a result, it could make sense for Cruise’s legal team to seek a California hearing for the divorce case.

PHOTOS: Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes through the years

Holmes and Cruise live most of the time in California, the experts said, and that generally determines where a case is heard.

“There isn’t a snowball's chance in hell of this case remaining in New York,” said Mike Kelly, a Santa Monica divorce lawyer and former chairman of the American Bar custody committee. “You cannot shop jurisdictions in custody cases.”

A source familiar with the case told The Times there is hope a settlement can be reached without a court battle.

PHOTOS: Celebrity splits of 2012

The source, who talked to The Times on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak on the case, said Scientology and what role it would play in the couple's daughter Suri's upbringing was a key factor in the split. Cruise is a prominent member of Scientology.

The source said the negotiations will probably center on a custody arrangement that would give both parents rights while also regulating the kind of Scientology teaching Suri, 6, is exposed to.

Meyer said it's not uncommon for divorced parents to differ on the religious upbringing of their children.

She said it's rare for a court to base a decision about custody on religious grounds.

“It has to affect a child physically or emotionally. [The religion] cannot just be different,” Meyer said.

Holmes filed court papers in New York. Neither she nor her attorneys have commented on the reasons for the split. Cruise was shooting a film in Iceland when the papers were filed.

Holmes, 33, has retained two prominent law firms that specialize in wealthy breakups. New York lawyer Allan E. Mayefsky has been involved in a number of acrimonious and headline-grabbing splits, including the divorces of model Christie Brinkley, TV anchor Joan Lunden and a Manhattan financier who was ordered to pay his ex-wife $44 million.

In addition, the "Dawson's Creek" actress hired a New Jersey divorce lawyer, Jonathan Wolfe, whose website boasts of his prowess in "complex matrimonial matters" involving "leaders or the spouses of leaders" in business, entertainment and sports. He has written extensively about prenuptial agreements and ways to recover hidden assets in divorce proceedings.

In a statement, Wolfe called the divorce "a personal and private matter."

"Katie's primary concern remains, as it has always been, her daughter's best interest," the lawyer said.

Speculation about a prenuptial agreement began almost immediately after the couple's engagement. Cruise already had two ex-wives in Hollywood -- actresses Mimi Rogers and Nicole Kidman. He adopted two children with Kidman. His annual earnings -- recently estimated by Forbes at $75 million -- dwarf those of Holmes, whose father is a lawyer.

Asked whether there was a prenuptial agreement, Cruise's longtime legal representative, Bert Fields, said: "I can't comment on that. It will all come out."

Bernard Clair, a Manhattan divorce lawyer with many wealthy clients, said judges generally order divorcing couples to abide by the terms of their prenuptial agreements when it comes to finances. But the court often modifies provisions governing child support and custody, potential issues in the Cruise-Holmes breakup.

"These provisions relating to custody are almost always viewed as statements of intent and aspiration as opposed to enforceable and binding provisions," Clair said.

Fields said he's hopeful the divorce proceedings initiated by the movie star's wife can occur without rancor.

"I would hope that it's not a contentious matter. I know Tom is not a particularly contentious person," Fields said.

Celebrities who have filed for divorce in California have been subject to media scrutiny because of public records law. Court documents recently detailed the property and assets changing hands during Kobe Bryant’s divorce proceedings.

Before that, court papers revealed details about former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's divorce from Maria Shriver, including that Schwarzenegger did not want to pay spousal support to his wife of 25 years.

RELATED:

Katie Holmes has high-profile team in Tom Cruise divorce

Cruise 'deeply saddened' after Katie Holmes hires divorce attorney

Tom Cruise learned of Katie Holmes divorce moves on set in Iceland

-- Richard Winton

Photo: Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes in 2005. Credit: Corrado Giambalvo / Associated Press

 
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L.A. Now is the Los Angeles Times’ breaking news section for Southern California. It is produced by more than 80 reporters and editors in The Times’ Metro section, reporting from the paper’s downtown Los Angeles headquarters as well as bureaus in Costa Mesa, Long Beach, San Diego, San Francisco, Sacramento, Riverside, Ventura and West Los Angeles.
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