Unbecoming a Trump: The Vanessa Trump Divorce

Posted March 23, 2018 7:22 p.m. EDT

NEW YORK — Last week, after more than 12 years of marriage, Vanessa Trump filed for an uncontested divorce in Manhattan from Donald Trump Jr., the eldest son of the president. In a joint statement, the couple said: “We have decided to go our separate ways.”

“An uncontested divorce is the much saner and healthier way of doing things, which makes it unusual for the Trump family,” said Kenneth Burrows, a New York matrimonial lawyer who is not involved in the case.

Precisely because of the Trump family’s reputation for chaos — not to mention that the Trump Organization, which is being run by Donald Trump Jr. and his brother Eric, has been subpoenaed by special counsel Robert Mueller — the divorce announcement only served to foster curiosity about Vanessa Trump, who has been something of a lesser-known member of the family.

One detail that has been closely scrutinized is Vanessa Trump’s selection of a lawyer, David Feureisen, who has a background in civil, criminal and divorce cases but is not a boldface name. He works in Westchester County, New York, and has a low profile in the media. (He did not respond to telephone and email requests for comment.)

In addition to handling the divorce, Feureisen also represented Vanessa Trump’s mother, Bonnie Kay Haydon, in a recent real estate transaction. In September, Haydon, who is living in a rental apartment, paid $6.4 million in a cash deal for a three-bedroom condominium on Fifth Avenue and 86th Street with two terraces and a library. The apartment, which is undergoing a renovation, was purchased from Elizabeth Ailes, widow of former Fox News executive Roger Ailes, said Carol Staab, Ailes’ real estate broker.

Haydon said in an email that the family would not be making any statements. “We all love Vanessa, and support her in any way we can,” she wrote. The Trump Organization did not comment.

Trump, 40, grew up in Manhattan.

Her father, Charles Haydon (born Charles Hochman) was a lawyer. His clients included Solomon Schwartz, who in the 1980s was charged with trying to smuggle 500 rifles and ammunition into Poland, and Abe Hirschfeld, the eccentric real estate mogul who was tried for tax fraud but not convicted. Her mother, around 30 years his junior, ran Kay Models, a small modeling agency.

Growing up, Trump was not a particularly distinguished student. She attended the Dwight School on the Upper West Side. In her high school yearbook, Trump was described both as most likely to “be on Ricki Lake” and to “get a divorce.”

After high school, Trump was a model with Wilhelmina Models, the agency once known for representing supermodels including Iman. In the late 1990s, Trump and her younger sister, Veronika, became fixtures of the Manhattan party scene, hanging out at bottle service clubs during the era of Moomba and Veruka.

“They were pretty girls who liked getting photographed,” said Lizzie Grubman, the publicist, who sometimes squired them around and said she couldn’t now remember whether she was paid to do publicity for the sisters or simply helped them out.

During that time, the sisters had several turns in the tabloids. According to a 1998 item in Star, Leonardo DiCaprio was said to have “fallen hard for a stunning young model” named Vanessa Haydon. DiCaprio’s publicist later said, “he never dated her.” A former classmate from Dwight told New York magazine, “Vanessa played the media really well.” Not long after Veronika finished high school, she had a child with restaurateur Stratis Morfogen. In 2001, she and her sister showed up in a New York Post story after visiting the Conscience Point Inn in the Hamptons with Morfogen. That night, he had an unfortunate run-in with a bouncer. He also opened an unruly nightclub called Sessa, the name that Veronika Haydon’s daughter, who was 3 at the time, used for her aunt because she couldn’t pronounce her full name. Morfogen and Veronika Haydon later got divorced. He now operates a restaurant on East 60th Street.

Donald Trump Jr. entered Vanessa’s life at a 2003 fashion show for a Kmart brand at Capitale, a nightclub on the Lower East Side; the brand was fronted by musician Thalía. Grubman was representing the brand and sitting near the elder Trump, who introduced Vanessa to his son twice that evening.

The couple made headlines with their engagement in 2004. The younger Trump proposed with a $100,000 ring that he got for free by agreeing to stage his proposal before paparazzi at the Short Hills Mall where the jeweler of the ring, Bailey Banks & Biddle, was located. The move frustrated his father, who complained about it on “Larry King Live.” (The publicity ploy ultimately didn’t work. By 2009, Bailey Banks & Biddle was in bankruptcy and the Short Hills location was closed.)

The couple was married at Mar-a-Lago in November 2005. During the ceremony, guests including Bo Dietl, the police detective turned TV commentator, and Sophie Dahl, the model and author, were seated around a swimming pool.

Christine Schott, who at the time worked as a model manager and publicist for Vanessa Trump, was there, and staying at Mar-a-Lago. She spent at least some of the night helping the press keep straight which blond matron was the bride’s mother and which was the groom’s. “The paparazzi kept having to ask me who was who because Ivana looked so much like Vanessa’s mother,” she said. “They both were tall with big blond buns.” Schott recalled seeing the elder Trump and introducing herself as the bride’s publicist. “The president said, ‘Vanessa has a publicist?'” Schott said. “He was annoyed.”

Schott, who is now starting a business to help the careers of beauty influencers, also recalled that it was a happy occasion for the new Mrs. Trump. “Vanessa was very loving, she was very much in love with Donnie, she was excited to become a Trump,” Schott said. “She told me at the wedding that she wanted five children. She was very specific about that. Not three, not four, but five.”

About a year and a half into the marriage, Trump gave birth to the couple’s first child, a daughter named Kai. Four more children followed over the next seven years.

Since her marriage, Trump, who once actively sought the spotlight, has become less of a public figure. She is described as an involved, doting mother and is often seen at school for drop-offs and pickups.

At the same time, her husband, who was something of a black sheep, became his father’s most ardent supporter, including appearing on “The Apprentice,” his father’s television show. Because of his appearances on TV, Dietl said, women were “throwing themselves” at the younger Trump. When his father ran for president, Trump emerged as a strident voice on social media and the campaign trail.

“He’s never around,” Dietl said. “I definitely had that sense.”

The pressure of being part of the first family has taken a toll on Vanessa Trump, people who know her say. In February, she was understandably rattled when she opened a letter addressed to her husband that had been sent to her mother’s rental apartment. White powder spilled out. Both Trump and her mother were taken to a hospital; the powder was later revealed to be cornstarch. Schott said that early on, Trump was concerned about her husband’s big-game hunting. “I know she wasn’t thrilled that he hunted as he did,” Schott said. “I know she wanted to keep it on the DL. She knew that was going to be a big issue, socially.”

Trump appears to have been raised in a more liberal family than that of her estranged husband. Less than a month after President Donald Trump was inaugurated, Haydon, Vanessa Trump’s mother, posted a story on Facebook headlined, “I’m an American living in Sweden. Here’s why I came to embrace the higher taxes.” Haydon’s public Facebook is usually confined to family pictures and the occasional viral video, although in 2015 she reposted a meme from an account called Occupy Democrats that mocked American appetites for assault rifles — and another meme, from Daily Kos, that showed Republican politicians, including Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, R-Wis., with the text “People without vaginas shouldn’t be able to regulate them.”

Even so, Trump wasn’t averse to appearing by the family’s side, both in the flesh and on social media, throughout the campaign’s various milestones.

As for Trump’s future, Schott has high hopes. “I think she could still have a nice career,” she said. “She could be a mommy blogger and she could take on a cause. She is in a position to do something great.”