Robert Stephan Cohen was already acquiring a banner 12 months as just one of New York’s major divorce legal professionals.

He represented Melinda French Gates in her split from Monthly bill Gates, one particular of the planet’s wealthiest folks. He was also retained by the spouse of John Paulson, the hedge fund manager who made $20bn betting in opposition to the housing industry right before the 2008 economic crisis.

Then arrived Labor Working day. The American getaway in early September marks the regular close of summer. A lot of New Yorkers had predicted this year’s holiday as a time to stop their pandemic-induced isolation — and, evidently, also their marriages. Cohen has taken on 3 or four billion-dollar split-ups due to the fact then.

“I identified that Labor Working day was a sign to folks who had been acquiring out of seclusion in East Hampton or Mexico or wherever their next properties had been,” reported Cohen. “It was type of a turning point for a lot of married couples, and I feel they decided then to pull the plug.”

Now 82, Cohen has for many years tested singularly skilful at aiding wealthy New Yorkers pull that plug. He has represented not 1 but two ex-wives of Donald Trump — Ivana Trump and Marla Maples — as perfectly as former New York Town Mayor Michael Bloomberg, shipping heiress Athina Onassis and the actor James Gandolfini, amid other boldfaced names.

It is shocking, then, that Cohen never ever a great deal wished to be a divorce lawyer. “I backed into this,” he confessed. “If any individual had mentioned I was a divorce lawyer, I would have been incredibly sad simply because I didn’t consider that was like a good detail to do.”

It started with a telephone connect with 30-odd several years back, when Cohen was a litigator with a rising track record. One particular of New York City’s most august corporate attorneys had a consumer, Henry Kravis, who was remaining sued by his ex-spouse more than their divorce settlement. His company, Simpson Thacher, did not want to entail by itself in such matters, the lawyer spelled out. Could Cohen aid?

He obliged, and managed to have the suit dismissed. The Wall Road Journal wrote of his exploits. “And my telephone started off to ring and the cases started out to come in,” Cohen said.

Though he has been referred to as a “pit bull”, a “Doberman” and “your worst nightmare,” among the other descriptors of extreme litigious ferocity, Cohen was simple-likely and genial on a new afternoon when welcoming a customer to his Manhattan office. At this point in his career, it would seem, the lion have to have only often roar.

“I can do the rough things if I want to,” he assured.

Some of that toughness arrives from a “lousy” childhood Cohen endured in a a single-bed room condominium on the border of Bensonhurst and Coney Island. His mom was chronically unhappy that her husband drove a taxi. She died at 37. Cohen’s father struggled and his sister, Ellen, was taken in by relations. He graduated from substantial school early and then labored his way via Alfred College and Fordham legislation faculty, earning his degree in 1962.

“There are so a lot of of us that came from the bowels of Brooklyn, in reduce middle course families,” Cohen mirrored.

Through his army assistance Cohen expended a lot of his time at Fort Dix in New Jersey ready for the pay back cellular phone so he could contact the business of Roy Cohn, the notorious previous main counsel to Senator Joseph McCarthy’s anti-communist investigation committee — and the gentleman who would later on acquire a younger Donald Trump less than his raptor’s wing.

Cohen did not always agree with his politics, he mentioned, but he revered Cohn’s skills as a litigator. Eventually Cohn granted him an interview, and then a job. “That was seriously the very first door that was opened for me,” Cohen said of his introduction to a gilded earth of doorman buildings and chauffeur-driven automobiles.

The fearsome Cohn also honed a relentlessness bordering on lunatic, berating the younger lawyer a person night soon after he informed him that he could not uncover a lawful resolution to a particular client issue.

“He commenced to scream at me. He mentioned, ‘do you imagine consumers appear in right here and inform us that we can’t do a little something? There’s got to be a way to do it,’” Cohen recalled. “He claimed, ‘do you see it’s dark out? I can inform you it is daytime and I’ll prove it’s daytime.’”

Cohen grew to become a spouse, then still left to start off his possess agency. “He experienced a host of failings, personalized failings,” he mentioned of Cohn, who was afterwards disbarred.

In the meantime, the divorce landscape was switching. It was turning out to be a lot easier to get a divorce in states that had lengthy required evidence of serious fault, typically adultery. (Hence the unseemly divorce lawyer track record as the snoop hiding in the motel bushes with a Polaroid digital camera). 

Then in 1980 New York mandated an equitable distribution of marital property. Business enterprise boomed, and it has only grown as the loaded have grown richer. Ivana Trump’s claimed $14m settlement in 1991, for example, now appears to be like a rounding mistake in a Gates estate that consists of a $55bn philanthropic foundation or an Onassis split that included litigation in Belgium, Monaco and Brazil.

“It’s a massive company. It necessitates persons close to who fully grasp tax, who have an understanding of securities, and who have an understanding of how to price all of these a variety of assets,” claimed Cohen. His organization, Cohen Clair Lans Greifer Thorpe & Rottenstriech, has a few lawyers who are qualified public accountants, as well as a community of exterior specialists to aid price exotic belongings. It is only a issue of time, Cohen predicted, ahead of he hires a cryptocurrency adviser.

For all the economical sophistication, divorce continues to be a people today enterprise — a lesson Cohen imparts to regulation college students at the University of Pennsylvania wherever he has taught a class, Anatomy of a Divorce, for the previous 17 many years. “You have to be a quasi-psychologist or psychiatrist or mental well being experienced,” he stated. “Remember, we’re dealing with men and women at most likely the most complicated time of their life.”

Cohen, who endured two of his very own divorces, has been married to Stephanie Stiefel, a taking care of director at Neuberger Berman, for 23 decades. (He wears a Cartier trinity band with a few interlaced strands). If one particular can steer clear of divorce, he strongly advises it. He even wrote a e-book in 2002, Reconcilable Variances, which claims 7 keys to preserving a relationship.

“I’ve reported this a hundred periods: If individuals continue to be personal, that’s often an crucial stage for me in declaring there might be a little something there remaining to help you save,” he explained, including: “It’s a rough business.”