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What Do New York’s Most High-Profile Splits Have in Common?

This hard-charging matrimonial lawyer, who’s as charming as he is smart

When Ivana Trump famously advised women everywhere “Don’t get mad, get everything” in the ‘90s dramedy The First Wives Club, she wasn’t entirely kidding. The original Mrs. Trump’s oft-repeated catchphrase refers to the Donald’s scandalous affair with Marla Maples and the resultant divorce that saw the Trumps battle it out over the family fortune while the tabloids kept score.

After the divorce was finalized in 1991, Donald withheld the last $4 million promised to Ivana once she vacated the couple’s triplex apartment at the Trump Tower, claiming she broke their confidentiality clause when she released the ghostwritten novel “For Love Alone,” which he said was a thinly-veiled look at their life together. So on the recommendation of a friend, Ivana hired lawyer Ira E. Garr to help her pry open Donald’s tightly clenched fist.

“Ira was constantly coming up with different ideas to resolve any issues that evolved,” says Ms. Trump of Garr, who decided to subpoena Donald’s mother and father, along with Ms. Maples—reasoning that those close to Donald would know if the personal details of his life matched those in Ivana’s book. “He always made me feel that he had my best interest at heart.”

The press’ field day with the real-life soap opera led to Garr, then in his early 40s, joining the exclusive circle of New York’s top matrimonial attorneys, those select few who consistently show up on all the top 10 lists. “At the time I almost wanted to pinch myself,” recalls Garr, from the midtown offices of Garr Silpe P.C., the divorce and family law firm he now runs with partner Steven M. Silpe. “I was the same lawyer, but all of a sudden getting clients with more zeros.”

Few people’s names are followed by as many zeros as News Corp. chairman and CEO Rupert Murdoch, and when the billionaire media mogul split from third wife Wendi Deng in 2013, he called upon Garr to represent him in another highly-publicized divorce.

Ira Garr and Ivana Trump

Ira Garr and Ivana Trump

“It was filed and then, within an hour, there were articles all around the world. The press kept calling and didn’t understand no comment,” says Garr, explaining that Murdoch stressed the importance of privacy in order to protect the couple’s two young daughters. “This one was sensitive.”

After a quick turnaround of a settlement agreement, the couple made their sole court appearance in November 2013, and the press noted that at the end of the proceeding Deng crossed the courtroom to graciously thank her husband’s attorney. This kind of cordiality with his adversaries is something Garr’s often recognized for.

“Ira was the one attorney who was able to deal with Donald and whom Donald liked and respected,” concurs Ms. Trump. “Ira can be very engaging and charming. At the same time, when necessary he is as tough as nails and pushes very hard to get the best result.”

The majority of Garr’s cases are settled out of court, which he says allows more creative ways to tailor an agreement to a client’s individual circumstances, whereas judges’ decisions are typically more cut-and-dry due to the sheer number of cases that pass through their chambers. Garr builds in all the details to help minimize future modifications, such as schedules for which parent gets the kids on which Jewish holiday or, in one case, even a clause for pet visitation.

Despite his penchant for settling, with some 30 years experience and an impressive client roster—that also includes Reagan-appointed Manhattan Federal Judge Kimba Wood—Garr is a familiar face in the New York courts. He has a friendly rapport with the other top-tier family lawyers and is known for his easygoing, likeable demeanor—a quality he says clients should never underestimate.

“I get asked very often by women clients, ‘Can you be tough enough for my husband?’ And I always ask them the question: Do you want tough or do you want smart?” he says with a grin. “Do you want me to take him out in the alley and beat him up—or would you like me to find out where his assets are and get you a big settlement?”

Main photograph shot by Kathryn Hurni