Are Christie Brinkley’s kids pawns in her divorce?

Christie Brinkley is pursuing Brinkley-style brinkmanship by fighting to keep her messy divorce proceedings public, a celebrity divorce lawyer and a psychologist agreed.

“They’re playing a dangerous game of chicken with her children’s lives,” attorney Lois Lieberman told TODAY’s Meredith Vieira Tuesday in New York.

The 54-year-old supermodel filed for divorce nearly two years ago, citing an affair her fourth husband, architect Peter Cook, 49, admitted having with his 18-year-old office assistant. The couple have one child together, 9-year-old Sailor. Also part of the family is Brinkley’s son, Jack, 12, from her third marriage.

An attorney appointed to represent the interests of the children joined with Cook’s attorney to keep the divorce trial, scheduled to begin July 2, private to protect the children. But Brinkley and Long Island newspaper Newsday asked to keep the trial public, and the judge agreed.

Lieberman told Vieira that it seems clear that Brinkley is trying to force Cook to settle on her terms rather than face the prospect of having his dirty laundry aired in public. In addition to the affair with his assistant, there have been allegations linking him to Internet porn and swingers’ groups.

A woman scorned?

Lieberman also feels Brinkley wants to get back at Cook for his infidelity to her.

“I truly believe that there is some vindictive measure that is part of this aspect of looking for the trial to be public,” the attorney said.

She said Brinkley’s motion to keep the trial public runs counter to normal procedure in celebrity divorces. Usually, she said, both parties try to keep proceedings private to protect their own reputations and their children.

In this case, many of the tawdry details have already been splattered all over the New York tabloids, and the children’s pictures have been published frequently. The couple live in the Hamptons, a Long Island retreat of the rich and famous and a small community in which everyone knows everyone else’s business.

On Tuesday, the New York Post published an exclusive story revealing that Cook had paid $300,000 to his former assistant, Diana Bianchi, now 20, to keep her from filing a sexual harassment suit against him.

Young pawns

The Post reported that Bianchi said she would prefer not to testify in the trial, but will take the stand if called. She has been subpoenaed as a potential witness.

Given all of that, Vieira asked psychologist Dale Atkins, “Is it possible to shield these children from harm?”

“I don’t think it’s possible,” Atkins replied. “You’re playing with fire and you’re playing with the children’s lives.”

She said there are venues in which issues of anger and betrayal should be worked out, and they shouldn’t include the local newspapers and television stations. “People need to work out their own stuff and their own conflict within themselves, within the walls of a therapist’s office or a mediator’s office or the office of a friend, but not in front of their children and certainly not in front of the world,” Atkins said.

“I think it’s really so selfish to put oneself in front of one’s children’s needs,” she continued. “It’s not [the children’s] divorce, but yet it will become their divorce. And they need some help in holding on to the feelings they have for both parents.”

Brinkley also has a 22-year-old daughter, Alexa, born while she was married to singer Billy Joel, her second husband. The supermodel’s first marriage was to artist Jean-Francois Allaux when she was 19. That union lasted from 1973-81. She married Joel in 1985 and divorced him in 1994. That same year, she married developer Richard Taubman, divorcing him a year later. She married Cook in 1996 and filed for divorce in 2006, after 10 years of marriage.

Lieberman speculated that Brinkley’s strategy will ultimately prevail and the couple will agree on terms of the divorce and custody rights, but, she said, “I believe it will happen on the courthouse steps.”