At some point, anyone married to a sociopath is—or should be—headed for divorce. Once the legal proceedings start, they will be brutal, bloody and expensive.
The New Jersey Superior Court just released the verdict in the divorce of James E. McGreevey, former governor, and his wife, Dina Matos McGreevey. You may remember this case. On August 12, 2004, Governor James McGreevey held a press conference and announced to the world that he was a “gay American,” and he would resign from office because of an alleged affair with a male aide. He hadn’t bothered to tell his wife about his sexual orientation until about three days before the press conference. At his insistence, Matos stood beside him as McGreevey made his announcement on. She looked totally dazed.
In my opinion, McGreevey isn’t gay, he’s a sociopath, which I wrote in Book Review: Silent Partner, by the wife of former New Jersey Governor James McGreevey. So the couple’s divorce was just like what many of us have experienced, except that it played out on national TV.
Dina Matos was deceived, outraged and humiliated. She wanted her husband to pay for what he had done and how badly he had treated her.
James McGreevey had moved on—his view was obviously, get over it already. He had a wealthy new lover. He did his best to appear poor so he wouldn’t have to pay.
Matos asked for $2,500 per month alimony for four years, $1,750 per month in child support, and attorney’s fees. McGreevey wanted to pay no alimony and about $100 per month in child support.
They would not settle. So it was left Superior Court Judge Karen Cassidy to decide for them.
Splitting the money
The court released Judge Cassidy’s decision on August 8, 2008. She wrote a 44-page opinion, which is posted on New Jersey Courts Online. I recommend that anyone going into court with a sociopath read it.
After a year of bitter litigation, James McGreevey and Dina Matos did come to terms on child custody for their daughter. All that remained for the court to decide was the money. The issues were:
- Celebrity goodwill—was James McGreevey a celebrity, and did Matos have a right to any money he made because of it?
- Should the couple’s brief tenure as governor and first lady of New Jersey, living in the governor’s mansion with plenty of perks, be considered in a determination of their marital lifestyle?
- Should McGreevey’s behavior—deciding he was gay and then claiming the Matos knew it—be considered in an alimony decision?
- Should standard child support guidelines be applied, under which McGreevey would owe hardly any, or did he have the financial resources to pay more?
McGreeveys have an agenda
In most divorce cases, courts take the position that both parties bear some of the blame for the dissolution of the marriage, and the point of the divorce trial is to distribute what’s left. The courts want both parties to play fair.
According to Judge Cassidy, the McGreeveys didn’t do that. She wrote:
It was apparent to this court that both parties took widely divergent positions and were unwilling to compromise despite significant efforts by the court system to have them resolve their matter out of the spotlight, by utilization of mediation and settlement conferences. Their positions were polarized and as the court will find in detail later, were somewhat disingenuous and unsubstantiated. As was expressed to the parties on numerous occasions, their ability to work together and fashion a financial settlement was clearly in their best interest. No one in a matrimonial case ever wins. Although the posturing in this case suggests that both parties were confident that they would prevail on most, if not all of their issues, rarely is that the case. Especially, in a matter as high profile as this, the court was disappointed that much of the testimony, particularly as it related to public figures within the State of New Jersey, and the dirty laundry associated therewith, needed to be aired in public and in the press. As will become apparent, there are no “winners” in a litigation of this type.
This court has an obligation to consider the evidence presented and the law and statutory factors in rendering a decision. The decision must be objective, fair, reasonable and not be influenced by the hyperbole displayed throughout this case. The issues here were plain and simple; a couple was married, certain events occurred within their relationship that resulted in their separation and ultimate decision to file for divorce. As a result of the demise of the marriage, fair and impartial determinations must be made in terms of support and the distribution of their property. Despite the unique circumstances in this case, this court must still use this analysis in rendering its opinion and making the necessary decisions.
The McGreeveys clearly had agendas. As previously addressed, their anger seemed to override any ability to testify credibly or to be reasonable. For example, Mr. McGreevey’s steadfast position that he was somehow unable to obtain employment contradicted directly with his position that he was actively attending seminary and pursuing a full-time program. Clearly, he cannot do both, but he somehow could not simply say that, instead contradicting himself over and over again. When faced with facts that he could not even support himself on his current salary, let alone both his daughters and possibly his wife, he was unable to provide a cogent explanation. Mrs. McGreevey’s demeanor in the courtroom and her position of an entitlement to an extremely generous standard of living reflected her anger and disappointment as to the end of her marriage. Her testimony was designed to generate a greater amount of support based upon circumstances that ended her marriage. The factors she suggested are not supported by the law and evidence.
The McGreeveys had only been married for four years and five months. This is considered a short-term marriage. For two years and seven months, they lived in the New Jersey governor’s mansion, with cooks, landscapers, security guards and other staff.
Dina Matos argued that the amount of the alimony she received should reflect the lifestyle she enjoyed while first lady, when she spent all of her discretionary income on clothes. She also argued that McGreevey was at fault in ending their marital lifestyle because he had an extramarital affair and left office early.
The judge rejected these arguments. Cassidy wrote that life in the governor’s mansion was “inherently temporary.” She also wrote that many marriages ended because of affairs — McGreevey’s did not “rise to the level of egregious conduct” according to legal standards. Matos was awarded no alimony.
In deciding the amount of child support James McGreevey should pay, the court looked at the earning capacity and financial resources of both parties. Dina Matos, until recently, had been working at a hospital foundation, earning $82,000 per year. James McGreevey earned $157,000 in 2004, $166,000 in 2005, $428,833 in 2006 (with the publication of his book), and $185,000 in 2007. Then he decided he wanted to become an Episcopal priest and quit working full-time to attend a seminary. So now he earns $48,000 a year. The court determined that McGreevey was “under employed” and imputed $175,000 in income to him.
Both McGreevey and Matos wrote tell-all books. McGreevey received a $250,000 advance for The Confession, and Matos received a $275,000 advance for Silent Partner. Both spent all their money, primarily litigating the divorce.
Still, McGreevey is living the good life because of his wealthy partner, Mark O’Donnell. O’Donnell has a 17-room mansion, where McGreevey is supposed to be paying rent, but doesn’t. O’Donnell pays McGreevey’s attorney’s fees and funds lavish birthday parties for his daughter. Because of O’Donnell’s financial support, the court found cause to increase the amount of child support McGreevey was required to pay.
The court ordered McGreevey to pay $1,075 per month in child support, plus 100 percent of the girl’s medical insurance and extracurricular activities.
Finally, there was the issue of equitable distribution of assets, including McGreevey’s possible “celebrity goodwill.” The couple didn’t have many assets, but McGreevey did sell his condo while married to Matos, which he “forgot” to tell her about. So he had some cash, which he claimed to be pre-marital. McGreevey also claimed he should be compensated for his wife’s expenditures on jewelry and clothing. The judge, however, pointed out that he provided no evidence for any of these claims.
Dina Matos said she was entitled to “an equitable share of the celebrity goodwill enjoyed by plaintiff due to his circumstances as Governor and recognizable persona.” As an expert witness, she brought in Kalman Barson, a forensic accountant. Barson valued this goodwill at $1,456,000. How did he arrive at this figure? He guessed. The judge wrote, “Mr. Barson’s report was not factually based and filled with assumptions that were never verified.”
In the end, Matos got nothing for goodwill, and nothing for McGreevey’s book. But she did get nearly $110,000 in equitable distribution of the cash.
Both parties also asked for attorney’s fees. McGreevey’s fees added up to $498,000; Matos’ were $526,689. The judge awarded no attorney’s fees. They both had to pay their own lawyers.
Dina Matos has also filed a marriage fraud claim against McGreevey. According to the Associated Press, “Matos McGreevey claims she was duped into marrying a gay man who sought the cover of a wife to hide his homosexuality and further his political ambitions.”
McGreevey, in the meantime, said that Matos knew she was gay, because she participated in threesomes with him and a male aide. Matos denied the allegations.
In my opinion, the threesome story is probably a fabrication, and McGreevey did dupe Matos into marriage. But on March 20, 2008, Judge Cassidy dismissed Matos’ claim of emotional distress, ruling that McGreevey didn’t plan to torment his wife while they were married. The judge permitted the marriage fraud claim to continue, but stated, “that does not guarantee the defendant (Matos) will be successful in trying her claim.”
The marriage fraud claim is still open, but it is not known if Matos will pursue it further. Unfortunately, she probably damaged her chances for success by asking for too much financial compensation in the divorce. According to NJ.com:
“Matos said during the trial that she could no longer afford to shop at Nordstrom, Neiman Marcus and Talbots and now had to shop at the Children’s Place, the Gap and T.J. Maxx. The judge was unmoved by that testimony, saying Matos brought her economic distress on herself.”
Lessons from the case
So what are the lessons in this case for us? What do we need to know if we’re in divorce court with a sociopath?
The court views divorce cases from the perspective that it takes two to fight. Now, we all know that in marriage with the sociopath, the disordered person is causing the vast majority of the problems. However, we have to be able to prove it. That’s why documentation and evidence are so important.
When it comes to settling the financial issues, judges expect to decide somewhere in the middle between what both parties ask for. In this case, it seemed like both parties asked for extremes, hoping to get a lot. But even when the news first came out that Dina Matos wanted to be compensated as if she still lived in the governor’s mansion, I thought she was nuts. That lifestyle was financed by the taxpayers of New Jersey, not her husband. It was an unreasonable demand, as the judge decided.
So why did Matos’ attorney, John Post, make such an outrageous claim? And why were her expert witnesses unprepared for the trial? To me it seemed that Matos’ attorney did a lousy job. The lesson here is to really research the attorney you hire. If you get bad advice and bad representation, you’re sunk.
McGreevey’s attorney, Stephen Haller, (the last one — McGreevey had three lawyers) said the ex-governor offered his wife a settlement of between $250,000 and $300,000 before filing for divorce. Matos turned it down. In the end, she got far less.
My divorce from a sociopath
I can understand not wanting to accept the sociopath’s offer. I also turned down the settlement offered by my husband, James Montgomery, which was bogus — he’d give me worthless assets, plus all the debts. I took him to court, spent about $35,000 on legal fees, and got a judgment against him of $1,253,287 — which I was never able to collect. Then, heavily in debt, I had to declare bankruptcy.
But I did win my claim for marriage fraud. I had evidence. I had four other victims of my ex-husband testify on my behalf. My husband stopped participating in the litigation, so that helped. But I think I would have won anyway.
The point here is that you cannot expect a judge to understand what it means to be married to a sociopath. Therefore, your claims must make sense to someone who thinks yours is just another normal divorce case. If your claims seem unbelievable — even though we all know they’re true — you must have evidence. To prove your claims, you need airtight documentation.
As I said in the beginning of this article, I recommend that anyone going into divorce court with a sociopath read Judge Karen Cassidy’s opinion. It’s well written, and even if you have no legal training, you can follow the legal arguments. It will give you a good idea of what to expect, and forewarned is forearmed.
Note: In this article, I discussed divorce, not child custody. Child custody issues with a sociopath are totally different. For information, see 10 strategies for child custody battles with sociopaths.