About the Disney Princess Divorce Open Letters

Dear Friends,

For those of you who faithfully read the Disney Princess Open Letters, thank you, and I hope that you were mildly entertained. I think it’s important to stress that my purpose in writing them was not to demonize any of the Disney Princesses per se, but rather to use them as really interesting case studies for understanding how divorces can get ugly, and what you can do to stop that happening, or at least limit it. It helps that the Disney franchise is more or less built on shaky marriages, but that’s another story for another time.

I also wanted to draw attention to some of the common issues that normal, non-animated people face as they prepare for a divorce: what to pay attention to, what to look out for, how to get your ducks in a row so you don’t get screwed.

I admit I also enjoyed thinking up what life would be like if the Disney princesses had “real” marriages, or ones that could have realistically resulted from what the movies depict. It just makes them more likable somehow.

Those of you who read will have noticed that I took some liberties with the princesses and their “happily ever after” lives. For those people to whom it’s important that the princesses and their princes stay happy forever and ever, I hope I haven’t offended you with my interpretation. I also hope you remember me when you decide it’s time to file for divorce because your own Prince Charming is buggering the scullery maid. Just kidding. That’s isn’t going to happen to you.

Also, don’t forget all the ones I didn’t write to; in large part, the princesses who didn’t appear are the ones I think might have figured out how to make it all work. Pocahontas? She didn’t get married in her movie, but I’m betting she’s marriage material. Mulan? She’ll find a nice man or woman to be with and live realistically ever after. There’s even hope for those Frozen kids. (Hey, I have kids, I know my Disney movies.)

For legal reasons, I need to point out that the Open Letters are not in any way affiliated with Disney, or Disney World, or even Pixar. I am strictly my own man on this front. A man who likes writing to Disney princesses.

In a way, it’s bad for my profession that the Disney empire is gradually learning to set a better example for kids about marriage maybe NOT being the ultimate goal of life. In another generation or so, I’m guessing the legal profession will take a bit of hit as kids stop internalizing the fairy tale idea that love conquers all, a gem that drives adult people through the first, sometimes second and even third marriages before it dawns on them that, no, actually, it doesn’t.

But thanks for keeping me in suspenders, Disney—for now.

I should also note that while I haven’t yet counseled any actual princesses, I have represented and counseled a lot of people who had essentially identical problems, minus the talking mice. If you found a smidgen of relatability in anything I’ve said and you want to find out what your options are, I’m available for that.

And if you think I went a little hard on Ariel, don’t be intimidated. She did get her divorce in the end, and while she didn’t walk away minted, she did get to keep all her thingamabobs.

James J Sexton

An Open Letter to Ariel: You're Going to Lose the Divorce

Dear Ariel,

Many thanks for writing to me, adding to my growing knowledge of the inner lives of the “happily ever after” folk, and giving me a chance to comment on your situation. First let me say that while I appreciate your desire to “get in on this open letter thing,” and I’m happy to provide advice on your imminent divorce, I fear you may not be happy about what I’m going to say. Still, yours is a situation that will potentially be informative for others, so here goes.

As you wrote in your letter, after two decades of marriage to Prince Eric, you’ve decided you want to divorce him. However, the facts of your life together may make it difficult for you to get what you feel you deserve, in terms of division of marital assets. You say you’d like to keep half of everything, based on the fact that you gave up your fins and your livelihood as a sea princess to be a wife to Prince Eric.

Personally, I think it’s fairly obvious that you are not going to get what you’re aiming for, for a number of reasons I’ll explain now. It should be noted that, of the reasons below, alone none of them would necessarily bar you from getting something—but taken together, they present a fairly hopeless case. (Ie. These are some pretty big mistakes; readers, take note.)

Lesson 1. The prenup should be updated and/or include an elevation clause.

You have a habit of signing your life away, Ariel, and this is what it appears you did in your prenuptial agreement. After going over the copy of your prenuptial agreement that you faxed, I can see that it does not allow for you to receive half of the marital assets, as you’ve said you want, but rather allots to you a monthly stipend (roughly equal to what you currently spend on self-tanning and pedicures). In the case of infidelity, says the prenup, you get nothing.

It would have made sense for you and Prince Eric to update the prenuptial agreement at some point in the last two decades to reflect your spending and lifestyle as these increased over the course of your marriage. It also would have benefited you to have built a percentage increase in your allowance based on the number of years spent together (known as an elevation clause) into the contract. However, you did neither of these things, so in the event of divorce you’ll theoretically be back to the monthly allowance that made sense when you were sixteen.

Lesson 2. Know what’s going on with your house finances.

Ariel, you said in your letter that you don’t deal with any of the financial matters. You know next to nothing about monthly bills and outgoings, accounts held jointly with Prince Eric, or the state of joint assets. (You did mention you keep a very detailed catalogue of your “treasure trove” of secondhand forks and spoons—unfortunately I feel this will be of little value in the divorce.) While I can help you to get hold of some of the relevant information, you’ll be in a disadvantaged position.

I’m guessing it’s rather difficult to feel empowered in a clamshell bra, but as a modern human, Ariel, you should make a point of understanding your finances. As it is now, you don’t have a leg to stand on, so to speak, when it comes to arguing for more money.

For the same reason, you should be aware of what mutual assets are in your name, if any, and if not, you should start putting things in your name—cars, summer house, what have you. Then you would be able to argue for at least these things, irrespective of the prenup.

Lesson 3: Don’t cheat.

Now we’re down to the most difficult issue of all, and the one I was indeed most surprised to see you bring up in your letter, especially one you knew would get a public response: your infidelity.

The long and short of it is that, suffering from a feeling that the “seaweed is always greener” as you put it, you’ve found it difficult to save your upgraded lady parts for Prince Eric alone. In the early years of your marriage this wasn’t such an issue—you had gadgets and gizmos aplenty, you say—eventually, you wanted more.

While you haven’t yet been caught, Ariel, you’re right to be worried that somehow it will come out—and the longer it goes on, the more you raise that risk. As for how that affects the prenup, there will be very little room to argue for a cent if there is any evidence of you cheating. Not only are you not going to get the optimistic half of everything that you want, you’re not going to get anything at all.

My advice to you, Ariel is this: Stay married, or else be ready to leave with nothing.

This isn’t advice I give often, but in your case, you have committed the golden trinity of mistakes: bad prenup, no financial involvement, and infidelity. In a phrase: You lose.

I feel for you, don’t get more wrong. The Disney franchise compelled you to get married at the age of 16, as they do. This isn’t just an epidemic of Disney princesses: getting married too young is a mistake you share with thousands. So is giving up your entire life and livelihood for another person—again, a mistake made by many people who come into my offices, usually female people.

The problem with making big commitments, like marriage, at a young age is that you believe the future will take care of itself, when in fact, it often doesn’t. That’s why, in my opinion, marriages between people over 28 are at least 3 times as likely not to end in divorce: you get to a certain point where you realize planning is important.

That’s not to say you can’t divorce Prince Eric; you can still divorce him, certainly. But you are likely to leave the marriage with, at best, a stipend, and that means a change of lifestyle.

Thank you again for the opportunity to use the hard-earned lessons of your fairytale marriage – and fairytale divorce – to educate the masses.


James J. Sexton

An Open Letter to Cinderella: How to Divorce Prince Charming

Dear Cinderella,

You might be surprised that I’m writing you this letter, considering that you are one of the world’s most prominent examples of a happy marriage. But, as a seasoned divorce attorney, I’ve learned to spot the ones whose marriages are on the way out—and frankly, Cinderella, I’ve seen that look in your eye.

You probably don’t want to admit it. You’re probably thinking, If I get a divorce from Prince Charming, will I be letting the world down? Will I be disillusioning thousands, nay millions of little girls whose dreams of finding fairy tale romance hinge on my prime example? Cinderella, we can only hope.

With this in mind, I’m going to advise you now as if you had wandered into my office, impractical shoes and all, asking “How do I divorce Prince Charming?”

Lesson One: Get a prenup.
I’m not going to sugar-coat this, Cinderella: You, like most ill-advised Disney princesses,
have been operating under the assumption that a Prince will make you happy. I’m guessing based on the fact that you were roughly sixteen when you got married, and your decision to marry was doubtless driven by a desire to escape a life of indentured servitude, you were probably more focused on racing to a life of bliss than on arranging a prenup.

Prince Charming has substantial assets, and this was probably part of the attraction. But,
as you’ll find out in the process of divorcing him, the Prince’s assets—his royal inheritance etc.—are “pre-marital assets” that you won’t have any claim to. Thus, like so many women, you were in a financially disadvantaged position at the start of the marriage, you assumed you shouldn’t ask for a prenup, and now you are at a financial disadvantage when you want to end the marriage.

This probably seems unfair, considering you’ve spent your life looking after Prince Charming and your royal children, smiling and waving when you’re supposed to, fulfilling your responsibilities, even indulging his sexual fantasies of having you dress up like a house wench and tickle his feet with your feather-duster—even with all that, now you’re left in a position where you probably can’t touch his royal monies. Such is New York law.

Lesson Two: Commingle your assets.
My advice to you is to get some of it for yourself by commingling your assets. In effect, commingling assets means mixing joint money, or your personal accounts (for example what you get from renting your father’s house to those wicked stepsisters of yours) with your husband’s inherited money. The idea is to make it difficult for Prince Charming’s lawyers to show clear separation of accounts in the court.

In short: open a joint bank account. Make big financial outlays (country house, jewels, angel investment in a Talking Mouse Circus) using mixed moneys. Avoid making big joint purchases from your husband’s inherited funds whenever possible, because you won’t have any claim to those in the divorce. And so on.

Contrary to the general belief among legendary damsels in distress, marrying royalty isn’t always all it’s cracked up to be. Without a prenup and without commingling your assets, frankly it doesn’t matter that you caught him in three different broom closets with three different scullery maids last year; his pre-marital assets are still likely to stay with him.

Cinderella, you understand the complications of the fairy tale marriage; you, more than anyone, know what it really means to live “happily ever after.” I urge you to take that knowledge, along with your glass slippers and your wits, to the bank.

James J. Sexton