(USA TODAY by Arienne Thompson) Tom Cruise, 50, and Katie Holmes, 33, settled their divorce Monday, less than two weeks after Holmes stunned Hollywood with the news that she planned to divorce one of the most famous men in the business.
The speedy settlement was preceded by a statement from the soon-to-be-exes: "We are committed to working together as parents to accomplish what is in our daughter Suri's best interests. We want to keep matters affecting our family private and express our respect for each other's commitment to each of our respective beliefs and support each other's roles as parents."
By settling so quickly, Holmes and Cruise avoided a potentially nasty legal battle that could have cast even more scrutiny on their already highly watched seven-year relationship.
Howard Bragman, vice chairman of Reputation.com and a longtime Hollywood publicist, says there are several factors that make the lightning-fast settlement a little less shocking. "Number one: There was a prenup. Number two: Her father is an attorney. Number three: It was in both their interests to resolve quickly. Number four: They both want to move on. And, Number five: There were not that many issues left to resolve, especially if you have a prenup in place."
Now that Holmes is one step closer to being officially single, she is starting over with a fresh slate in both her personal and professional life, all of which should be a positive for her, adds Bragman.
"She's going to be interesting now, she's going to get a boost from this because she looks independent, normal. She fought for her child, and people can relate to her. There is no better launching pad."
And in her second act, Holmes will most likely blend acting with fashion, says Janice Min, editorial director of the Hollywood Reporter and former editor of Us Weekly.
"My sense is, her passion is fashion. It's going to take her a while to get her legs back in terms of being considered as just Katie Holmes," says Min. "I could see her doing some interesting cameos on good shows. I could see her doing another hour-long drama. She's not quite as established enough as a major film star to carry a movie, but one day she could be."
Beyond a love of fashion, what else could be in the pipeline for Holmes? Experts weigh in on three aspects of her life - professional, personal and romantic.
Holmes' career hasn't exactly gone gangbusters since hooking up with Cruise in 2005.
The former Dawson's Creek star's most recent movie was last year's universally panned Adam Sandler comedy Jack and Jill, and her last hit was 2005's Batman Begins.
"When analyzing a career, there are many, many contributory factors, not just one. Usually at the core of great success is great drive - relentless, maniacal drive combined with great talent. She may not have been that driven, we don't know," says veteran Hollywood publicist Michael Levine.
Shortly after filing for divorce, Holmes filmed a guest spot on the Lifetime reality show Project Runway. But Levine says Holmes is capable of landing a bigger role.
"First, she has to figure out what all actors should do, which is assess where they are and where they want to be in five years and take steps based on reverse engineering to help them be where they want to be," Levine says. "If they want to be movie stars, choose parts, small or large, that get them there. If they want to be movie stars, don't choose reality TV shows. ... Any fool with a plan beats a wandering genius. I would encourage her to get a plan based on where she wants to be."
Holmes did find some laughs opposite Josh Radnor during a guest appearance last fall on CBS' How I Met Your Mother. But can she carve a career out of humor?
"We have yet to see her really expand. I don't know whether or not Katie is funny," says casting director Doron Ofir, who's responsible for casting Jersey Shore . "To be a dramatic actress is a relatively easy thing to do, because drama is inherently part of the human nature. To be funny is another one. We don't know her."
Building heat on television could buoy her in the pop culture landscape, and fans are already calling for Holmes to spark a mini-reunion on ABC's Don't Trust the B-in Apt. 23, which stars her Dawson's Creek pal James Van Der Beek (he plays himself). The network was unavailable for comment.
Mini-arcs are trending in Hollywood, says Deadline's Pete Hammond. "I think (Holmes) can do what Gwyneth Paltrow did on Glee if there's a good role out there."
Whichever path Holmes chooses with acting, there's no need to rush into anything advises Bragman.
"First thing she has to do is get beyond this. She shouldn't feel in a rush to get a project," he says. "She's done film, TV, live theater. She should do something that really moves (her) soul, either the medium or the part. There's going to be intense scrutiny no matter what she does, so the only right answer is what's right for her."
After Nicole Kidman's 2001 divorce from Cruise, the statuesque Aussie went on to win an Oscar the next year for her work in The Hours.
Not bad - and not too far off the mark for Holmes, Ofir believes.
"I think that we are about to see what we saw with Nicole Kidman. The second that she was free, she exploded. It was literally one after the other after the other. It was Moulin Rouge, then The Others, then The Hours. She was sought after, and, now she is one of our golden actresses of the time. If Katie can realize that this is the beginning of her life as a legitimate actress and she chooses her roles incredibly carefully, she will become in that same vein."
And fashion is always an option, too. Womens Wear Daily reports that Holmes and her stylist Jeanne Yang will show their Holmes & Yang line at New York Fashion Week in September.
No need to uncover any rocks to find Holmes during this celeb split. She's avoided the whole hiding-in-my-apartment-to-dull-the-pain approach and instead has been out and about in New York, taking her daughter Suri, 6, for very public and very photographed trips to the grocery store, for ice cream and to a children's museum.
Bragman says the anti-bunker approach is the way to go in this situation. "When you hide, it looks as if you have something to hide from. It sends the wrong message that says, 'I'm hiding,'" he says. "All these everyday things (she's been doing) endear her in the hearts of people, make her look normal, and that's what you want right now."
And, in an era of back doors and private elevators for Hollywood's biggest names, it's clear that Holmes could stay out of the public eye - if she wanted to.
"That only creates demand, and what you don't want to do is create too much demand," adds Bragman. "If there are a lot of pictures, they're worth less (to paparazzi). If she never goes out and there's just one picture of her out, it's worth hundreds of thousands (of dollars). If any tourist with a phone can snap you walking down Fifth Avenue, it's worth a nickle."
"She is making an aggressive attempt to appear normal," Min says. "She seems confident and unrattled, living her life day-to-day as a normal mother. It conveys to Tom Cruise's side that she's not in hiding and not afraid."
But outings and interviews are not the same thing. Min predicts that anyone waiting for Holmes' tell-all chat about her five-year marriage will be holding their breath for quite some time.
"Very likely she'll keep (interviews) in the realm of fashion. She'll do the cover of a fashion magazine. Anyone expecting the big tell-all, I don't see a universe where that happens," says Min. "It doesn't benefit her to make it seem like she's telling tales out of school. For better or worse, she was part of Scientology during this marriage. She didn't get much of a career bounce out of being married to Tom Cruise. She doesn't gain by being too brutally honest about the marriage or Scientology."
Like all celebrity divorces, after the legal dust has cleared, fans are eager to see newly single stars coupled up once again. And perhaps no future relationships will be more closely watched than those of Holmes and Cruise.
"She's in the image business. People will talk and talk about her, no matter what she does. If she has coffee with a guy, people will have them involved in an affair," says relationship expert Gilda Carle. "She's going to have to be strong enough to laugh all this off. ... I think it's a good idea for her to wait six months (to start dating), until she's actively certain that she has her footing and she can balance her life on her own."
Plus, after the enthusiastically public nature of her romance with Cruise, Holmes may consider going in the opposite direction by keeping her private life a little more private and engaging in some self-reflection.
"She needs to figure out how she ended up in the boat she ended up in, and what she's going to do to change her taste in men," adds Carle. "She's coming into her own. She seemed robotic with (Cruise). She has just started realizing that she has power. She can go and do as she pleases. This is a huge, rude awakening for her. She has to be comfortable with her empowerment and be comfortable as a single mom and as a woman who can earn a living."