Written by Kevin Benoit
Vikki Ziegler tell it… she’s a hustler. Nothing illegal obviously, just an entrepreneur and businesswoman who has taken her foundation in the legal field and taken it to the next level. A practicing divorce attorney in 3 states, Ziegler is also a professor at Fordham University in NYC, an author and the owner of two social networking websites. Her experience as a divorce lawyer for athletes and entertainers has also led to several opportunities as a consultant and as a featured guest on television. That led to her appearance in the ESPN, 30 for 30 film, Broke. Shortly after the film’s premiere, we got the pleasure of meeting with Vikki Ziegler to discuss her various business ventures, her experiences and so much more, which we’ve featured in our complete interview below. In short, it’s a great read, if I can say so myself.
Parlé Magazine: Nice meeting you. So just to clarify you’re a woman of many hats, but you’re a divorce attorney, first and foremost correct?
Vikki Ziegler: I’m a divorce lawyer by day, I represent athletes, entertainers and anyone who needs a divorce.
Parlé: What’s the first thing you said you wanted to be as a child and how did that evolve into what you do now?
Ziegler: I wanted to be a divorce attorney as soon as my parents got divorced at 12. Its been my plight to help children go through the horrible roller coaster of divorce and I made it my passion. Its pretty much what I’ve done for my entire career.
Parlé: Where did you study law?
Ziegler: I went to the University of Rhode Island for undergrad and then it was Bridgeport Law in Connecticut and then it turned to Quinnipiac Law.
Parlé: Where are you originally from?
Ziegler: My parents are from South Africa, so I am a Johannesburg native. My parents immigrated to this country. I grew up in New York for a little while then went to Jersey, then came back to New York. I practice law in New York, New Jersey and D.C.
Parlé: You passed the bar in all 3 regions?
Ziegler: Yeah. I’m a hustler!
Parlé: Has law been what you expected it to be when you got into it?
Ziegler: Absolutely not. I thought I was going to help children, I really haven’t been able to help children as much as I wanted to. I’m helping try to save their (divorcees) money and their assets and along the way try to help people deal with the horrible divorce process. I realize that the cliché, ‘more money, more problems,’ i’s true! And quite frankly, really sad. You know when you really care about people in your lives, divorce is like kind’ve like avoiding a train wreck, not really fixing it. It’s not really what I thought I’d be doing and not exactly what I see myself doing in another 5 years.
Parlé: Divorce rates right now are incredibly high, obviously great for business, but what do you think the problem is in America right now?
Ziegler: First time divorce rates are at 50%, second time is 63% and third time rates are at 74%, so what’s going on right? People aren’t learning from their mistakes, their rebounding, they’re not really changing, they think about the wedding, that day, the honeymoon, but they don’t realize that marriage is forever. And they’re not getting educated about money, they’re not talking about where they want to live, how many kids. Many people aren’t premarital planning and a lot of times they’re going into it because they feel like they’re supposed to be married and I don’t believe in that. And I think people in a bad economy fight about money. They don’t plan for it, they don’t plan about their expenses, their investment strategies and that takes a toll on the marriage. I get the calls like, ‘he cheated,’ well that is a symptom, it’s not a cause, he’s cheating for a reason. So those are some of the reasons why I think marriages fail. And they don’t have me talking to them before they get married.
Parlé: You wrote a book for those that don’t have an opportunity to speak with someone like you. How’d you decide you wanted to write this book, The Premarital Planner?
Ziegler: For me, thirteen years of practicing law, they’re not planning, they’re not using prenumptial agreements, they’re not talking about important things. They live together but not even talking about what happens if they break up. For me, you gotta talk about these things. If you both brought a couch, whose couch is it? You can’t split it in half with a saw. I created the book because I saw so much negativity and I saw so many people failing in their marriages, I thought, I know what’s going wrong. Let me write about it, let me tell people, this is what you need to do. That’s kind of why I wrote this book in particular and it’s The Premarital Planner, that’s really what it is. Teaching people how to stay happily married from a divorce attorney’s perspective.
Parlé: How’d you go about getting your debut book published?
Ziegler: I hustled and I hustled and then someone saw a vision. They believed in me and they saw that there was a market. And what divorce attorney wants to put themselves out of business? Me! That’s how I roll, I’m kind of crazy like that.
No, they loved it. I got a three book deal and I’m working on my next book, The All-Star Divorce, how to get your experts and your team together when you’re getting a divorce. And I have a chick-lit movie/book called Love, Lies and Litigation.
Parlé: Since you’re writing relationship books, I have to ask, are you in a relationship.
Ziegler: I got married 3 months ago, so I better know what I’m talking about. If I’m getting divorced I’d be a BIG sucker. I talk the talk and I walk the walk. We did all the steps in the book, we did all the planning. So to me it’s real important. We went through all the worksheets. I wanted to get financially naked and that’s what he did and that’s what I did. And you talk about what you want to share and what you don’t. It’s not romantic, but its necessary.
Parlé: Pre-marital agreements, pre-nuptual agreements, are you an advocate?
Ziegler: Huge advocate, when it’s necessary. Any athlete that comes to me and asks about a pre-nup, the answer is always yes. Anyone that has any type of asset that they want to keep separate or protect, the answer is always yes. Whether its real estate or business, even potential inheritance, even though its not generally subject to distribution, it can be if its co-mingled and put into a joint name. You definitely want to think about it if there’s an asset you own and you worked hard for before your marriage.
Parlé: You’re also an educator, teaching marital law at Fordham, correct?
Ziegler: Yes, I teach drafting pre-nuptual agreements and same sex marriage, which is such a hot topic.
Parlé: That’s a pretty new topic…
Ziegler: Yes, very new. Been teaching that for 3 years now. The law is evolving and the students are so into it, there’s like a wait list for every class because the students are so into the topic.
Parlé: At this point, gay marriage is a new topic but is the law overall changing that much?
Ziegler: Yeah, I was just reading about the Supreme Court striking down the Defense of Marriage Act and that’s a big deal. Twenty-three to twenty-seven states have altered their constitution to say that gay couples can marry. Now, the Supreme Court is striking down the Defense of Marriage Act that can alter the entire landscape of every state. The Defense of Marriage Act defends that marriage is between a man and a woman, if the Supreme Court is striking that down does that mean there’s room for same-sex couples to get married in every state? Huge! This is constitutional law, this is exciting stuff. And we don’t know what’s going to happen.
Parlé: You were involved in this ESPN “30 for 30” film called Broke. It’s been pretty big of late. How did you get involved with that?
Ziegler: A friend of mine is a financial adviser and he said that they were looking for a divorce attorney, he recommended me. I literally went into the studio a year ago, I didn’t even know what it was for. I’m on TV pretty much weekly, so whenever you call me, I’m there. The topic is athletes going broke. Aight, I’ll talk about it. For an hour I talk about it. I didn’t even know I was in it [the movie], quite frankly no one told me. So my friend goes to a screening, two guys and they’re like, ‘great job’ and I’m like, for what? They’re like we’re in the movie theater. So I email the producer like, ‘thanks for letting me know.’ He says, we’re sorry. So I attended one of the screenings afterward. No big deal.
I represented athletes, so I have the background. I know this is a big problem that I’ve been trying to teach in the NFL, NBA and the NHL, how to help these athletes from going broke. How do we teach them to keep their money with their longevity on average being between 5-6 years. I think its important. So they talked to me about divorce and baby mamma drama.
Parlé: How’d you get to the point where you are the go-to analyst for topics like this?
Ziegler: I think that you’re getting to know that I like to work and I work hard and I take nothing for granted. I have been on hundreds of television shows just to get my name out there. Quite frankly about 5 years ago, I’m at a party and this guy comes up to me, he says, how come you’re not on TV, I heard you’re a lawyer, you’re attractive. I thought he was trying to hit on me. He said, ‘no really, I work for Fox.’ He gave me his card, I gave him mine. I thought whatever and I told him, ‘I bet you a hundred bucks you don’t call me.’ He called me and later that week I was on Bill O’Rielly. I fell in love with TV. I guess they liked me and enjoyed what I did. I honed my skills and I been doing it for almost 6 years, been on a lot of shows. I’ve represented a lot of people, hopefully have done a pretty good job for them and when they’re satisfied, they tell a friend and a teammate and then next thing you know you’re representing the whole team. I got a Jets player here, I got a guy on the Raiders. So it really just depends. I try to do a good job for my clients. I’ve been blessed, but it has not come easily.
Parlé: I was having a recent conversation about musicians and the perception that this money lasts forever. Musicians and athletes go hand in hand though. In your experience what are some of the things that eat away at the money of entertainers and cause so many of them to go broke?
Ziegler: I think bad financial advice. Even if you’re getting it, you need to know what sources its coming from. A lot of celebrities, in my opinion, their agents are telling them who to go to. You should get advice from people that are not in your world, are not in your clique. So to me its big to get unbiased, unsolicited, good financial advice from accredited people that are licensed. And then getting educated. If you’re giving your money to somebody else, if you don’t know what they’re doing, shame on you! We’re all capable of googling. I’m not a money person, but google works. Ask questions, Get educated, you work hard for your money, you don’t want to give it away. A lot of these celebrities, they look in their accounts and they’ve been swindled and their money is down, that should never happen. You should be looking at your statements every month. Understand what taxes are! People pay 40-50% of their gross in taxes. You just got a $20 million dollar deal, no, you’re going to get $10 million and then your agent gets a piece, like 35 percent, you have to understand that. Think about divorce. Most people in long term relationships that get divorced have to split half their assets and then you have to add court obligations on top of that. You have to think about these things, hopefully before you get married, that’s where the pre-nup comes in. If its too late and you didn’t do that then you have two choices, you can enter into a post-nup, make somebody sign that, which I love. Most athletes and high income individuals do that or number two, start thinking, in case of divorce, how much money will you have to pay in support, have an account on the side to set aside money in case you won’t be earning as much as you were during the marriage. Plus, stop spending so much. You don’t need ten Bentleys. When Mike Tyson walked into the Mercedes dealership in New Jersey by my office, he bought ten Bentleys. I was like are you crazy? He was worth $350 million, he’s worth a million dollars today. The over spending of these celebrities buying all the clothes, cars, jewelry, gold and diamonds, they don’t go up in value, they go down. Even the real estate market, they depreciate. Live below your means, not above your means. That’s the best advice I can give some of these celebrities. You would think that for people of that caliber they would think about it all the time, but they don’t. That’s why we’re talking about it.
Parlé: You said earlier that initially you hoped to give advice to children whose parents were going through a divorce, so what advice would you give to anyone who’s parents are going through a divorce now?
Ziegler: Well first off, its not your fault. You have to know that. Stay out of your parents business arrangements, because it has nothing to do with you. Know that sometimes people get married for the wrong reasons and sometimes people fall out of love and the reality of it is, would you rather your parents be happy separated and divorced or would you rather to be living in a home with people fighting? You want to see what a good marriage looks like, so I’d say every dark cloud has its silver lining. I went through a divorce myself with my parents but now I know what people in happy relationships look like. It always works out, you learn what not to do.
Parlé: And for people who are in a marriage that they aren’t satisfied with, what advice do you have for them? Obviously you’re a divorce attorney so that’s one of the big options, but what are some other options?
Ziegler: I always recommend when people come to me, if there’s a path of reconciliation and both people love each other, they need to go to therapy. Whether a psychiatrist, psychologist or a life coach, a pastor or a rabbi, I believe in that. I throw people out of my office if one of them is still in love. I really believe that in my heart they need to work on it. But any relationship, you put in what you get out, if both people aren’t committed to making it work than its not going to work. Start committing time to each other, without the kids, without the cell phones, we’re all addicted to our phone, I sleep with the phone under my pillow, we’re all crazy, but when you’re in love and you really want to be with someone than show them that. What love language are you speaking, everyone has a different one.
Parlé: Oh, the love language. So you’re a believer in that?
Ziegler: Yes, I’m in love with it! You know why, because you can be dating someone and you speak different love languages. I’m thinking I’m packing your lunches and I’m doing great, but to you, you could care less. You want me to tell you ‘I love you.’ If you don’t know what each other is looking for than you’re going to have a problem. You have to identify those things. I’m a huge proponent of self-help books and figuring out what your issues are. Don’t keep them along and pass them on to the next generation. Talking, communicating and reading about these issues is really helpful. Any type of information you can get from the radio, from books you can get, do it and work on yourself. You’ll be happy and you’ll be rewarded.
Parlé: Thirty seems to be a deadline for a lot of people for marriage so it seems to me that there are a lot of women running around who want to be married by that age, just so they can beat that imaginary deadline. What advice do you have for women fighting to beat that ticking clock in their head?
Ziegler: I believe every one has their unique story and I don’t like to put clichés on anyone. I believe who you are at thirty is not who you are at 35-40. I think you need to know who you are and ask yourself if you’re ready financially, emotionally, check in with yourself. Talk to people, talk to your friends. Ask them, ‘if I told you I was getting married, would you laugh, how would you react?’ Check with yourself. Forget about what everybody else is doing. You gotta believe in your heart that you know what’s good for you.
Parlé: We talked about it a little bit earlier, but where do you see yourself 2-5 years from now?
Ziegler: Where I see myself, well I have a couple different companies, DivorceDating.com, I created that for people that are looking to date after divorce. I think that’s huge for people who want to date someone who is like them. I’m hoping in the next few years the company will explode in this country and all over the world. I’ll have my two other books out and hopefully my movie. And I’ll have my own TV show helping people to mediate their situations instead of divorce. I want to do speaking engagements as well. People see me and they think I must have had it good, but that’s not necessarily the case. I like to talk to people and tell them about my life and my struggles. For me its spreading a positive vibe. We all have family issues and relationship issues we just need someone to help us navigate through it better and that’s where I see myself fitting in, helping the masses. And enjoying life. Family, friends, colleagues they’re important. And giving back, have to give to charity on the side as well.
Parlé: Book 2 comes out when?
Ziegler: 2013. The Premarital Planner is in stores now. Its on Amazon, its available in bookstores worldwide and I’m still doing book signings as well.
Parlé: I know you have another site, Divorce Academy, talk to me about that.
Ziegler: I created Divorce Academy, divorceacademy.com to teach people how to get a divorce in an economic fashion. We’ll have a team of experts there to really help people navigate the divorce waters. And they’ll be able to talk to me as well…for not my hourly rate.
Parlé: Both websites are live now, correct?
Parlé: Thanks for your time. Very much appreciated.