From the Law section of The Times website, 25/03/2010.
Liz Taylor was beautiful, iconic… and a great client for divorce lawyers
By Marilyn Stowe
Somewhat predictably, the obituaries and features about Elizabeth Taylor have focused upon the late screen beauty’s colourful love life. She married eight times, twice to the same movie star, Richard Burton.
Hardly a great role model for lasting relationships, you may think; but what a great client for divorce lawyers! And it is true that Elizabeth Taylor has long been a favourite of mine – but I have my own reasons.
History is set to remember Elizabeth Taylor as one half of a magic couple: the violet-eyed, raven-haired beauty who cast her seductive spell over Richard Burton on the film set of Cleopatra. They became one of the most iconic couples of the 20th Century: good looks, Hollywood glamour, yachts, glittering jewels… and blazing rows. They lived life together to the fullest, but their marriage crumbled and they divorced. This, for me, is where their relationship gets really interesting.
The ten-year marriage ended “without tears and with a friendly agreement about sharing the family fortunes”, reported the Los Angeles Times in 1974. “Mrs Burton retains all the items she owned prior to and during the marriage, including the jewels given to her by Mr Burton.” Custody of their daughter was given to the mother, but “with very liberal rights of visitation. Mrs Burton also requested that Mr Burton have the right to visit her other children”.
The couple remarried the following year, but broken relationships can rarely be repaired and ultimately, neither could theirs. After divorcing for a second and final time in 1976, both found new partners, but they never stopped being friends from afar and spoke on the telephone often. Richard Burton died in 1984, but Elizabeth Taylor kept his photo by her bedside until her death almost thirty years later. She sent a single red rose to his funeral.
As they married, so they divorced: with love, respect and generosity. I can tell you that this does happen, but is relatively unusual. Self-pity, anger and acrimony are more common. Divorce is an emotional roller coaster and, understandably, many parties are motivated by self-interest.
Of course, in the case of this movie star couple, the money undoubtedly helped. Both were independently wealthy, and could afford to move on without having to fight for needs to be met. In my experience, however, some of the bitterest divorces and most unpleasant battles over children have involved high net worth couples. It would be a mistake to presume that money changes everything.
Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton never allowed hurt, self-pity or regret to destroy everything they had loved together. For a family lawyer, that’s a Hollywood ending.