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Dealing in Discord

In navigating the roiled waters of high-profile divorce, Robert Nachshin gets $465 an hour as an expert listener, negotiator and sometime shrink.


It's frustrating, but Robert Nachshin can't help it if people choose the wrong mates, or cheat on them because they're bored, or begin to loathe the spouses they once adored, or lie, trick and obfuscate when all that's at stake is half their net worth and their emotional equilibrium. He only knows he tries to make the best of things for his clients, who come to him for $465 an hour's worth of expertise in how to end a marriage in Southern California.

He is short, slender and intense, with a beard he grew in December to work against a boyishness that is incompatible with his 48 years. It came in whiter than the pepper and salt shade of his close-cropped hair. His style of dress is Ivy League inoffensive, only slightly enlivened by the patterned Ferragamo ties he favors. Large, almost bulging blue eyes that give him a perpetual look of astonishment are his most distinctive feature.

However, after working as a family law specialist in Los Angeles since 1976, very little surprises Nachshin (rhymes with action). Not the husband who schedules a secret office visit to put the attorney on retainer when the man's youngest child is still in grade school, making clear that he'll call to wrap up the divorce right after his son graduates from high school. Not the happily single man who married so he could get divorced, thereby gaining a more desirable dating profile. Not the professional baseball player's ex-wife who goes back to court every time her former husband is awarded a new contract, because while $48,000 a month in spousal support might seem like enough to pay for living expenses, if he's earning more, then she wants her cut, or at least she is warmed by the notion of saddling him with some legal bills. And not the thrice-married movie director who moved back in with the woman he'd recently divorced and their young daughter, apparently unfazed by the fact that, with Nachshin's help, his ex-wife got his child support payments doubled to $12,900 a month.

His firm, Nachshin & Weston, bills itself on its Web site as a family law practice focusing on high-net worth, high-profile divorce, child custody, and prenuptial and paternity actions. Clientele, rates and track record place it in a group of about 15 top divorce firms in Los Angeles used to navigating waters in which the financial temperature is elevated and the media can smell the blood that drips from open wounds with the instinct of an undernourished shark.

"All my clients are wealthy," Nachshin says. "I would say about 20% are high profile, and in those cases, everything is exaggerated. But contrary to popular opinion, Los Angeles doesn't have a higher percentage of divorces than the rest of the country."

Just a greater sensationalism quotient. Nachshin has represented baseball player Bret Saberhagen, TV producer Don Bellisario, the Portland Trail Blazers' Brian Grant, Alana Stewart (Rod's ex), actress Lesley Ann Down in the dissolution of her marriage to director William Friedkin, and Walt Disney International President Robert Iger when he was head of ABC. Clients pay from $5,000 to $900,000 for his help, with $80,000 in fees being the average cost of uncoupling.

His most widely reported case was tried in San Mateo County, where a five-year soap opera featuring his client San Francisco Giants superstar Barry Bonds and the woman who accused the athlete of bullying her into giving up a career in cosmetology to marry him drew nearly as much local attention as the concurrent O.J. Simpson trial. It began with Susann Bonds' challenge to a prenuptial agreement signed when Bonds was a promising second-year outfielder with the Pittsburgh Pirates, earning $106,000 a year. (His current contract pays him more than $10 million a season.) She might have won that round, simply because no one could find a copy of the 8-year-old agreement, until Nachshin's investigators located a Pittsburgh attorney who'd represented Bonds in a previous divorce who had a copy. In a ruling last month, the court of appeals deemed the prenup invalid. Nachshin has petitioned for a rehearing.

Other highlights of the case included charges of domestic abuse and a paternity suit filed by a porn actress against Bonds while the court was still considering Susann's plea for her and their two children to receive an increase in monthly support from $30,000 to $90,000. Nachshin was relieved, for his client, when the raise wasn't granted. He's familiar with opponents using any means to get whatever they can, and subscribes to such strategy as well, when it's expedient and within the bounds of what he considers ethical. Still, some days, it seems clients would demand that their mates burn in hell for eternity, if such a request were enforceable.

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