MURDOCHS REACH DIVORCE SETTLEMENT

Staff Writer
Columbus CEO

c.2013 New York Times News Service

NEW YORK — Rupert Murdoch and Wendi Deng Murdoch appeared in court Wednesday morning and announced they had reached a divorce settlement, an agreement that effectively ends the 14-year marriage of the media mogul and his third wife.

At a hearing at New York state Supreme Court in Lower Manhattan, the couple sat at far ends of a small table, flanked by their lawyers. Both told a judge they had signed on to the confidential 100-page agreement that rested on the table, which made a trial unnecessary.

“I’m glad that you’ve been able to resolve these matters amicably,” said Judge Ellen Gesmer, who still must enter a final divorce decree. “Good luck to both of you.”

People close to the Murdochs said the settlement negotiations were relatively straightforward, in part because they signed one prenuptial and two postnuptial agreements delineating the division of assets in the event of a divorce.

Still, there were several contentious issues, including custody arrangements for their two daughters, Grace, 12, and Chloe, 10. Wendi Murdoch will continue to live in the couple’s Fifth Avenue penthouse triplex with the two children, according to people familiar with the deal.

Rupert Murdoch has four children from his previous two marriages, and all six have equal economic interests in a family trust that holds most of Murdoch’s wealth, estimated at about $13 billion. Chloe and Grace, however, do not have the same voting rights in the trust.

The Murdochs’ divorce will not affect the ownership and control of Rupert Murdoch’s multibillion-dollar media conglomerate, which was recently split into two companies: News Corp., a publishing company, and 21st Century Fox, which houses entertainment assets.

The 15-minute hearing was held in a small courtroom. Rupert Murdoch, 82, arrived first, wearing a dark gray suit and red tie, and sat quietly in the back row while waiting for the proceedings to begin. He was accompanied by his divorce lawyer, Ira E. Garr, and the general counsel of his two companies, Gerson A. Zweifach.

Wendi Murdoch, 44, entered the courtroom a few minutes later, dressed in a hunter green overcoat and carrying a black-and-white leopard print bag. Her husband stood up and they shook hands. The couple again shook hands at the end of the hearing and did not engage in conversation.

Both Murdochs declined to comment, other than issuing a joint statement.

“We move forward with mutual respect and a shared interest in the health and happiness of our two daughters,” they said.

Murdoch met Wendi Deng in 1998 on a business trip to China, where she worked for a division of News Corp. They married a year later in New York Harbor aboard Rupert Murdoch’s 155-foot yacht, the Morning Glory. The boat has been put up for sale.

Normally a fixture on the New York social circuit, Wendi Murdoch has kept a low profile since June, when Rupert Murdoch surprised her with divorce papers. The lawsuit said that the “relationship between husband and wife has broken down irretrievably.” Friends say that in recent years, the two have been living largely separate lives.

In 2011, during British parliamentary hearings on a phone hacking scandal involving one of Rupert Murdoch’s newspapers, Wendi Murdoch made headlines when she lunged at a protester trying to attack her husband with a pie.

Her protective urge was again on display in court on Wednesday. This time though, she was solicitous of her lawyer, William D. Zabel.

Walking with a limp and aided by a cane, Zabel was in obvious discomfort as he awaited hip-replacement surgery later this week. Wendi Murdoch grabbed Zabel by the arm both before and after the hearing, helping him move about the courtroom. Hobbling in the hallway, Zabel was asked how he was feeling and if he had any comment on the case.

“Bad hip,” Zabel said. “Good settlement.”