Robert Murdoch, the 82-year-old owner of the billion-dollar News Corporation conglomerate, had surprised his wife of 14 years with divorce papers just over a month ago. Today, Wendi Murdoch, 44, has switched lawyers, a sign for many that the separation proceedings might get ugly.
Robert first met Wendi Deng in 1998 on a business trip to China. A recent graduate of the Yale School of Management, Ms. Deng was working at Star TV, a unit of News Corporation with a new headquarters in Hong Kong. Robert hosted a town hall and fielded a tough question about his company’s China strategy from an eager and well-prepared Ms. Deng.
Sources close to the family believe tensions regarding the Murdoch family trust led to the divorce. In 2006, Robert announced during a television interview with Charlie Rose that Grace and Chloe would have the same economic interest in the family’s trust but not the same voting rights as his four children from his previous two marriages. Wendi was unaware of this arrangement and tried to negotiate more favorable terms for her daughters.
Wendi has hired William D. Zabel, a well-known New York trusts and estates lawyer who has represented several women in their divorces from wealthy businessmen, including Jane Beasley Welch during her contentious split from John F. Welch, the former chief executive of General Electric.
Although Wendi has already established the prenuptial and two postnuptial agreements with Rupert Murdoch, some areas remain unsettled.
For one, there are the custody arrangements and child support for their daughters. Other issues that could be contended include the division of certain assets, like their Fifth Avenue penthouse and their yacht.
Murdoch, who is worth $11.2 billion and is No. 91 on the Forbes list of wealthiest people in the world, is being represented by Ira E. Garr. He also is said to be seeking advice from Gerson A. Zweifach, the general counsel of newly separated companies News Corp and 21st Century Fox.