What happens when rappers, athletes and reality show divas in Atlanta need a divorce and family law attorney? Who do they call? Randall Kessler, of course. Divorce Saloon recently had the opportunity to speak with the heavily decorated divorce attorney from his office in Atlanta. Below is an excerpt of the discussion:
Divorce Saloon: Thanks so much for meeting with us today, Mr Kessler.
Randall Kessler: It is my pleasure.
Divorce Saloon: Well let’s begin at the beginning. Can you tell us about yourself? When did you first begin to practice divorce and family law?
Randall Kessler: Well, where do I begin? I got out of law school in 1988. I worked for 3 years with other firms then I started my own practice in 1991. Since then the firm has grown to employ 14 lawyers and we have a staff of 30 people.
Divorce Saloon: Very impressive, Mr. Kessler! And you have practiced only in Atlanta, is that correct?
Randall Kessler: Yes, for the most part. I mean, you know, an athlete could retain me for a situation in another state, like Miami for example. But I would probably appear pro hac vice and the judge admits me for that one appearance only. Then more than likely I recommend that they hire local counsel.
Divorce Saloon: You seem to have developed quite a niche…?
Randall Kessler: Yes, this is due to my lecturing network that I’ve built up over the years as well as the fact that for a time I was chair of the American Bar Association Family Law section and I teach a course at Emory and also at John Marshall Law School so this has all helped me to build up this niche practice.
Divorce Saloon: Nice. Very nice…. So let’s talk about celebrity divorce cases in Atlanta. Is that ok for you?
Kessler: Yes, let’s.
Divorce Saloon: Well, it seems like there is a huge concentration of rappers, reality show stars and athletes in Atlanta making Atlanta a very dynamic market for celebrity divorces, and thus for divorce attorneys like yourself. Would you agree?
Kessler: Yes, definitely.
Divorce Saloon: Whose divorce is the most contentious would you say of all the various genres of celebrities?
Randall Kessler: Well a lot of these celebrity cases that my office handles do not involve divorce.
Divorce Saloon: Oh?
Randall Kessler: Well, they are Family law cases because of the child support and child custody issues but a lot of my clients are not even married to the person they are fighting with in court. But to answer your question, I don’t think that celebrities have more contentious divorces than ordinary people. The thing that people have to understand about celebrities is that they are just like us; it is just that they are known by more people because of their celebrity but they have the same issues in their family life and divorce and custody fights as ordinary people. If you really think about it, that is why celebrities are so relatable in our society. It is why people are fascinated with celebrities’ problems. It’s like, if this could happen to Britney and Michael Jackson and Usher it could happen to me. That is the reasoning for some people. It is just a human story. Take athletes. People look at a lot of athletes and have so many misconceptions about them and their lives. They think that athletes are not very smart. But these guys are very smart and that is why they are successful. Some have some issues with child support and stuff like that. But these are very smart people and I really enjoy working with these folks and trying to help them.
Divorce Saloon: Who tends to win custody in these celebrity custody face offs? Is there a preference for the celeb parent or the non celeb parent in your experience?
Randall Kessler: The thing is that a lot of times, both parents in these relationships are celebs. So I do not find a bias in favor of either parent in these cases typically. The judge uses his or her discretion and is usually not very impressed with celebrity status. Often the judge has no idea who these people are. It is we, counsels, who often have to tell the judge that this is so and so. The judge makes a decision on a case by case basis usually. Sometimes the judge decides that the celebrity could be a distraction and so the non celebrity parent gets custody. But then the judge could decide that the celebrity’s resources are good for the child and therefore awards custody to that parent. It really just depends. I do not see a bias in favor of celebrities though. They are just treated like any other parents in my experience.
Divorce Saloon: Are children adequately protected by the laws in Georgia in these situations?
Randall Kessler: You mean as far as celebrity kids?
Divorce Saloon: Well, yes but also generally speaking. What is the general climate in Atlanta for kids?
Randall Kessler: The laws could always be better but it really isn’t all that bad. Everything is fact specific. We need good judges and we do have good ones in Atlanta. There are the exceptions of course but for the most part the judges are good. We need judges willing to mold proper solutions to issues. Things could always be better. But it is ok.
Divorce Saloon: Switching gears a little bit…. Do you have a huge problem with hidden assets in the typical divorce case involving celebrities?
Randall Kessler: No. The mere fact that they are celebrities makes it easy to find assets so I don’t think a lot of them even bother. Imagine if, say, Bill Clinton were getting divorced. It would be very hard for someone so well known to hide assets.
Divorce Saloon: Really? I would have thought that it would be easy for famous people to hide their identities, use dummy corporations to hide assets; open bank accounts in other people’s names?
Randall Kessler: This has not been my experience. Typically, a lot of times celebrities are not as rich as they appear to be. Obviously I am not talking about someone like Bill Clinton but a lot of celebrities have a lot less money than people realize. They have a certain image and persona but their financial affidavit says something else. A lot of them do invest in other businesses and are cash poor. But on the other hand, they are used to getting away with a lot. They have their accountants cook the books. It really depends.
Divorce Saloon: Speaking of networth affidavits, have you ever been shocked by how little a celebrity client was actually worth?
Randall Kessler: Yes, often. Absolutely. Of course we would investigate to make sure the numbers were accurate but it happens more than people realize that celebrities don’t have nearly as much money as everyone thought . You have to understand that some celebrities are not in it for the money. They may just like music or sports or whatever they are into. It is not about the money.
Divorce Saloon: Have you had clients’ spouses who were likewise shocked about how little money their famous spouse actually had?
Randall Kessler: Yes. This happens often. But not just to celebrities. It happens to professionals too, doctors, lawyers…
Divorce Saloon: Hme…Interesting…. So switching gears again… You were recently on the Real Housewives of Atlanta in a scene with NeNe Leakes about prenups. What possessed you to do something like that?
Randall Kessler: What do you mean? to appear on a reality show?
Divorce Saloon: Yes.
Randall Kessler: Well, it was a risk. I talked it over with several people including my wife but in the end I decided to do it; they needed someone and I said yes. We filmed 3 or 4 times till we were comfortable. NeNe is a very successful entertainer. She has been on Glee and Dancing with the Stars and she has really done well for herself. She has been on the Apprentice…. It was a very interesting experience.
Divorce Saloon: Do you think it was good for your firm, though? I mean, should serious lawyers be appearing on reality shows?
Randall Kessler: I think it went great. I have a responsibility to market my law firm and I do a lot of different things to market the business. And I think my appearance (on the reality show) helped to do that. It was an enjoy able experience and I hope I helped other people who were watching. Divorce is a difficult process. Even when you are a celebrity and having a prenup is certainly important to protect current and future assets.
Divorce Saloon: You recently wrote a book about divorce called Divorce: Protect Yourself, Your Kids and the Future what motivated you to write this book? There are already thousands of books on the issue of divorce.
Randall Kessler: Oh really? I was not aware there were thousands of books on Divorce! I made it a point of not reading any of the others because I did not want them to cloud my judgment. This is a book I started about 20 years ago then I put it aside and then went back to it recently. It was published last year. It is an easy to read book; an overview of family law issues, everything the client should know before they come to see me.
Divorce Saloon: It certainly does sound like an interesting read. Why do you do this work, Mr Kessler? What attracted you to this type of work?
Randall Kessler: I love it. I love this work. I love helping people, helping them move on from a difficult situation in their lives. Obviously I am a lawyer and advisor. Clients can talk to me and they do. I become their confidante sometimes. I have to balance a lot of roles: counselor, media rep, shrink. But that is why I love it.
Divorce Saloon: Thanks for chatting with us today, Mr. Kessler. This has been very interesting.
Randall Kessler: Anytime
Georgia Court of Appeals
Supreme Court of Georgia
United States Federal Court, Northern District of Georgia
Supreme Court of the United States
Kessler rated 10 out of ten on AVVO
Selected as 2010 Super Lawyer Top 100
Georgia Trend Legal Elite 2003 – present
AV Rated, Martindale-Hubbell, October, 1995 to present
Atlanta Magazine Super Lawyer, 2008: Super Lawyer
Atlanta Magazine Super Lawyer, 2006 – Present Top 100 Super Lawyer
Daily Report Top Lawyers on the Rise, 2002
Chair, Family Law Section, State Bar of GA, 2011-2012
Member of Family Law Webinar Advisory Board for Strafford
Former Chair, Family Courts Committee, ABA Family Law Sect.
Secretary, Family Law Section, State Bar of GA
Master in the Charles Longstreet Weltner Family Law Inn of Court
Editor, Family Law Review, State Bar of Georgia
Former Chair, Family Law Section, Atlanta Bar Association
Former Chair, American Bar Association, Standing Committee on Subst. Abuse (Message from the Chair)
Judge, Pro Hac, Dekalb County Recorder’s Court, 2000-present (Photos: Kessler Swearing In )
Faculty, Emory Law School, Trial Techniques Program
Faculty, John Marshall Law School, Family Law