Wendi Murdoch Hires New Divorce Lawyer

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Wendi Deng and Rupert Murdoch at the Oscars.

The estranged wife of Rupert Murdoch switches attorneys in a move that is being perceived as a sign that the split could become contentious.

Rupert Murdoch's estranged wife, Wendi Deng, has found a new lawyer to handle her divorce from the media mogul.

Deng has hired William D. Zabel to represent her in the proceedings, her rep confirmed to The New York Times. Zabel previously represented Jane Beasley Welch during her acrimonious split from former General Electric CEO John F. Welch and also settled the divorces of the late author Michael Crichton, radio host Howard Stern and New York Jets owner Robert Wood Johnson IV.

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Deng had been represented by Pamela M. Sloan, who advised her on her prenuptial agreement when she married Murdoch in 1999. But an unnamed source told The Times that Sloan had become friendly with the couple, and Deng wanted an attorney who wasn't as close to the situation.

The Times speculated that the hiring of Zabel suggests the Murdochs' split "could take an acrimonious turn." Deng's rep declined further comment.

Deng was reportedly surprised with divorce papers in June upon her return to New York following a trip to the couple's home in Northern California. The Times reported that she initially turned to Sloan, a "trusted confidante," while taking the time to interview eight different attorneys before finally setting on Zabel.

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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.

The Times reported that the Murdochs have a prenuptial agreement as well as two postnuptial agreements, but some of the issues that will need to be worked out include custody arrangements and child support for their two daughters -- Grace, 11, and Chloe, 9 -- in addition to the division of assets, including their Fifth Avenue penthouse and yacht, The Morning Glory, on which they were married 14 years ago.

Murdoch filed for divorce from Deng in June. A sealed document within the filing revealed that "the relationship between the husband and wife has broken down irretrievably," according to the Associated Press. The couple had reportedly been living separate lives for at least six months. 

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Deng became Murdoch’s third wife after he divorced Anna Maria Torv, to whom he was married for 32 years. They had three children together -- Elisabeth, Lachlan and James -- and after sorting through the terms of their prenuptial, Torv reportedly ended up with $1.7 billion, including $100 million in cash.