Some people cope with heartbreak by holing up with pints of Haagen-Dazs. But Bethenny Frankel, reality star and Skinnygirl cocktail founder, never seemed likely to go that route. On Jan. 5, just days after filing for divorce from her husband of nearly three years, Jason Hoppy, Frankel stepped out to Manhattan restaurant El Toro Blanco for dinner with her business partner Matt Hesse. "She looked pretty and glammed up," says a fellow patron. "But sort of stoic too."
With good reason. Though a source told People in December that her split from Hoppy-which Frankel announced Dec. 23-"will not get messy," neither side's hands have remained clean for long. While those close to the former couple have begun trading nasty barbs and even questioning the motives behind the marriage, Frankel, 42, who signed a prenuptial agreement before her televised 2010 wedding to Hoppy, 41, recently hired bulldog attorneys Allan Mayefsky and David Aronson, the same team who represented Katie Holmes
during her split from Tom Cruise
. "Either you're her friend or her enemy," says a longtime friend of the couple's. "When you get on her hit list, she'll do everything she can to destroy you. And now Jason is in her sights."
Recent actions have given the appearance she's gearing up for a battle. On Jan. 7 she filed a document declaring that matters of custody and child support still need to be determined (and noting that she would like primary custody of the couple's 2-year-old daughter, Bryn). Celeb divorce attorney Nancy Chemtob, who is not representing either party, says it could be an opening salvo: "She might be doing this for leverage," Chemtob notes of the tactic. "She wouldn't waive her right to child support; it would be inconsistent with asking for primary custody." Still, a Frankel source insists, "The filing of the summons, which is a preliminary document, is to delineate what the issues are. She would like to do [this] cooperatively with Jason."
Cooperation isn't something the couple have had a lot of experience with lately. While both parties are still reeling post-split, one pal says that Hoppy has started to rethink the entire basis of his relationship with Frankel. "Right now Jason is wondering if Bethenny ever really loved him at all," says the longtime friend. "He feels used, as though he completely fell for something that may have been orchestrated to make her more famous." And despite the existence of a prenup, those close to Hoppy say he is already contemplating how much credit he's due for her recent successes. "Jason absolutely feels that his support played a huge role in her business," says the Hoppy friend. "When they got married, she was still getting a lot of Skinnygirl off the ground. And he was a major help to her image. He enters the picture, and suddenly there's a spinoff show about their wedding, and then about their marriage and their baby. That certainly didn't hurt her image."
Nonsense, says a Frankel insider, dismissing the idea that the relationship was a mere ratings ploy. "Anyone who watched the show saw the chemistry between them and how in love they were; it was undeniable," says the source, who adds that Frankel's Real Housewives of New York
reality spinoff was already in the works, albeit with a premise centered on her life as a single gal in the city, before she met Hoppy in 2008. As for Jason's role in her fame, the source notes, "The show was called Bethenny Getting Married
, not Bethenny and Jason Getting Married. The idea that she would not be as successful as she is right now without him is nuts. She is a self-made success." Meanwhile, another associate notes that Frankel and Hoppy always seemed more like "business partners" than a happily married couple, with Frankel calling the shots: "I'm sure it was emasculating for Jason to be part of the Bethenny brand."
Also problematic for Hoppy was Frankel's strained relationship with his close-knit family, particularly important to Hoppy as he is an only child following the death of his brother Bryan in 1991. "Jason and Bryn are all his parents have," says the source. "And they embraced Bethenny with open arms, but she wasn't interested. She completely shut them out." Counters a Frankel insider: "There are definitely differences between Jason's family and Bethenny, but what woman gets along with her husband's parents all the time? She's not the first person to have a problem with her in-laws."
Through all the in-fighting, Frankel has tried to put a brave public face on the split. Shortly after the announcement, she whisked Bryn away for a vacation in Aspen, happily sledding with her daughter during the day and kicking back with pals at night. And in typical no-nonsense Frankel style, she tweeted the following message Jan. 5: "To those of you who are being supportive: thank you. To those of you who are judging: I totally get it."
Regardless of how Frankel and Hoppy feel about each other, both sides agree that Bryn is their main priority. However, the rest of the divorce settlement remains in question. "Jason should have nothing to lose" by challenging the prenup, says divorce attorney Chemtob. "If they do 50-50 [custody], she would have to pay child support because she makes more than he does." (Frankel, who will host the daytime talk show Bethenny this fall, also oversees a shapewear line, beauty products and a series of books and DVDs; she sold her Skinnygirl cocktail brand for a reported $120 million in 2011.) As she moves forward with the divorce, Frankel is trying to adjust to her new life as a single mom. "She's still trying to process this and understand it herself," says the source close to Frankel. "She's really, truly sad."
- With reporting by Elizabeth McNeil,
- K.C. Baker.