Features On the Upswing

Marilyn Chinitz: The Ultimate Divorce Lawyer

Photo courtesy of Marilyn Chinitz

Weinberg Center for Elder Justice

Marilyn Chinitz is a fierce advocate for the vulnerable and elderly in our society. Recently she was honored as a Champion for Change by the Weinberg Center for Elder Justice, in recognition of her extraordinary dedication to change and to seek justice for older adults. Chinitz was presented with the prestigious award at the Weinberg Center’s Ninth Annual Awards of Distinction Breakfast where she gave the keynote address. Chinitz said in part, “It is imperative that we gather the stories of the survivors of elder abuse and share them publicly, to bring awareness to this crisis which the Weinberg Center knows is far more widespread than most of us can imagine. I have learned that abuse happens every day to elderly and disabled individuals.”


Tom Cruise, Wendy Williams & Michael Douglas

During nearly four decades as one of America’s top divorce lawyers, representing high-profile clients including Tom Cruise, Wendy Williams and Michael Douglas, Chinitz has witnessed many changes in family law.


Consider the Options to Divorce

Chinitz tries to get clients to consider their options before moving ahead with a divorce. “You can educate them as to whether or not divorce is something that they want to embark on,” she said. After hearing why clients think they want a divorce, she sometimes presents a different scenario. “I extrapolate what their motivations are and how they’re thinking,” Chinitz explained. “You know right away if somebody says, ‘I’m done, I want to move on,’ but you also know if somebody is hesitant and making decisions without really having full knowledge or having done their due diligence.”


Impact on Children

For one thing, divorce has a tremendous impact on children. Some divorcing couples work with parental coordinators, who help to broker solutions. “I like the idea of people at least trying to be cooperative,” Chinitz said. “Sometimes it works; sometimes it doesn’t.”


Shun Social Media

Chinitz also recommends that clients avoid posting to social media while undergoing a divorce. Even if a cheating spouse, say, blocks the attorney from seeing his or her posts, lawyers can simply have someone else examine a spouse’s social media feeds as well as those of friends and associates for incriminating information like expensive trips or gifts. “Every platform — Facebook, Instagram, TikTok — for lawyers is a pool of information,” said Chinitz. One client’s husband claimed to be traveling for business even though that seemed unlikely. “We were able to find out exactly where he was because the woman with whom he was having a relationship posted everything — every vacation, every restaurant, every private club,” she said. “You get a lot of information; it’s crazy.”


Almost Everything Is Online 

“Now, many court proceedings continue to be online — court hearings, trials, depositions,” Chinitz said. Chinitz believes because it’s cost-effective and efficient, these virtual practices, with the exception of trials, are here to stay. Divorcing parties are assigned a specific virtual time slot as opposed to staying in the courtroom for hours waiting for their case to come up. But Chinitz finds there is also a downside. “Trying to negotiate and resolve things in the back room when you have time to spend with the adversary waiting for your case to be called has become a lost opportunity now,” she said.


Lawyers Are Available 24/7

Litigation has not slowed down because of the pandemic. With many attorneys continuing to work from home, clients have access to counsel at any time of day. “The phone will ring at 6 a.m. on a Saturday,” Chinitz laughed. She answers. She has a client in Hong Kong with whom she speaks at 6 a.m. because it’s evening over there.


Private Judges

With courts still backed up, Chinitz says divorcing couples are using retired judges to arbitrate their cases.


Post-Pandemic Finances

The pandemic’s disruption is still wreaking havoc on divorcing parties. Agreements based on business valuations that have now dropped precipitously due to current markets, requiring distribution of assets that no longer exist, need to be amended. Some people no longer have enough income to meet their support obligations; others contemplating divorce are now considering waiting until things pick up financially.


Colorful Career

Chinitz’s colorful career has included some wild cases like a CSI-level extraction of a prenuptial agreement from a safe deposit box in the World Trade Center that had melted in the 9/11 attack and hiring a beautiful female private investigator in Rome to pose as a bride to locate a child illegally taken by his mother to Italy, where a relative ran a wedding dress atelier. “You look back, and think, ‘Wow, this is like a movie!’” Chinitz laughed. “There isn’t a story I haven’t heard.”


Uncovering a Murder with Geraldine Ferraro 

In another astonishing case, Chinitz uncovered the murder of an Orthodox Jewish woman found dead in her Manhattan home and buried immediately without an autopsy, amid an ugly divorce. Chinitz reviewed the circumstance of evidence uncovered by investigators, then she had the family hire and discuss the case with her partner, Geraldine Ferraro — yes, the vice-presidential candidate in 1984. When the widower denied the dead woman’s family access to his children, they consulted Chinitz. “They told me the story of her divorce, and after a very extensive meeting, I said, ‘You’ve buried your sister. I think you buried the evidence. I think the husband killed her,’” Chinitz said. The private investigators discovered compelling circumstantial evidence and went to the district attorney and obtained an order to exhume the body. The cause of death was determined to be homicide by neck compression, and the ex-husband was eventually convicted in 2019.


Philanthropy & Entertaining

Chinitz lends her expertise to a variety of charitable causes, sitting on the boards of the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation, the Foundation for Gender Equality, WHAM (Women’s Health Access Matters) and K9s4Cops, which trains German shepherds for police departments. “There are a lot of interesting areas to keep me busy,” she said. Chinitz also loves to cook and hosts multi-lingual dinner parties for her circle of international friends.


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