"For a while we pondered whether to take a vacation or get a divorce. We decided that a trip to Bermuda is over in two weeks, but a divorce is something you always have." —Woody Allen
You can't talklove and marriage without bringing up loathing and divorce. It's like contemplating anchovy pizza without considering the heartburn. Or waging a marital battle without a bulldozer, a mistake Kree Kirkman did not make. After his wife filed for divorce in 1985, the scorned Enunclaw husband bulldozed the family home while his spouse was out of town. It wasn't an impulsive reaction, he insisted. After all, he'd taken the time to go down to city hall and obtain a legal, $11.50 demolition permit to raze the $85,000 house. Only then did Kirkman, a building contractor, maneuver the dozer and backhoe up to the new three-bedroom house and level it in 15 minutes.
Though he had destroyed all their belongings and left his wife and child homeless, Kirkman was overwhelmed with congratulatory mail and calls from around the country. Males, particularly, thought he'd struck a blow against divorce inequity—many offered to help with a defense fund.
Kirkman later underwent mental tests and counseling, and his wife sued the city for granting the permit. But Kirkman was never charged with any crime. All he did, he maintained, was knock down the half that was his—and her half followed.
The Dozer Divorce is still cited by attorneys as the ultimate Washington divorce-revenge story. Of course it's a bizarre exception to most post-marriage tales: While many divorces involve friction over money, children, property, and new relationships—and some turn violent and even murderous—many marriages end amicably through no-fault options and divorce mediation agreements. Still, some of the divorced people and lawyers we talked with—anonymously, they insisted—think revenge has its selling points.
"Getting even," says a recent divorcée, "feels as good as getting the silverware."
One attorney points to a recent Tacoma case as an example of revenge with a satisfying twist. Hoping to gain an edge in his divorce battle and prove his estranged wife was an unfit mother, wealthy inventor Gary Allan Bandy (he made millions on a specialized airplane hinge) hired a man to wiretap his wife's phone during their 1996 divorce (they were married on Valentine's Day, 1990). But it was the vengeful Bandy who ended up being punished. According to US District Court records, his attorney, after leaving a message on the phone-answering machine of the wife's attorney, absently forgot to hang up his speaker phone. His private office conversation was then recorded on the opposing counsel's machine.
The wife's attorney, later playing back his messages, was astonished to hear Bandy chatting with his attorney and another man about the wiretap scheme. The FBI was called in, and Bandy was convicted of a federal crime, given two months in prison, and fined $15,000. Point, wife.
"Wiretapping isn't that rare among warring parties," adds one attorney. "High-tech eavesdropping is a snap today."
Attorneys describe "your usual" revenge stories as letting air out of the spouse's tires, drive-by window-breaking, canceling the ex-mate's credit cards. Stomping on treasured flowers beds, and driving over the manicured lawn are oldies but goodies. (Last year a Stevens County man, getting even, rammed his wife's Cadillac into the local post office.) Others improvise when properly motivated. A few years back, an attorney told me about a soon-to-be ex-wife who went to the Seattle bungalow where her ex and the Other Woman lived. "She figured that since they wanted so badly to be alone together, she'd help them out," the attorney recalled. "She blocked off one door and nailed or wired up the other. Then she cut off the power and the telephone and turned off the water. I guess they finally broke a window to get out the next day. I remember, as the woman sat there telling me about it, she'd burst out laughing. Pretty soon I was laughing, too."
In another instance, a divorced Spokane man appeared before a judge with his pockets turned inside out, explaining why he wasn't able to make back support payments: He'd just gone to the bank, drawn out all his money, and put it in a paper bag. On the way to court to pay his tab, he said, he made a bad investment: "I gave [the bag] to the first person I saw, your honor." Poor guy lost everything!
Of course, attorneys and other professionals who deal with divorces can themselves get caught up in messy conflicts, with the state as the avenging party. Last month, for example, state bar president Lowell Halverson was found in violation of conduct rules for having a six-month sexual relationship with a woman he was representing in a divorce case. Halverson, wed 33 years and the author of a book on divorce, argued that there was no rule against having consensual sex with clients (as he'd done with five other women in the past 20 years, he admitted). But the woman who filed the complaint, Lisa Wickersham, testified at a bar hearing that Halverson "used me" and "abandoned my [divorce] case." Also, in December, the state suspended the license of Spokane psychiatrist Arthur Leritz after he admittedly had sex with two women patients. (He'd been living with one since his divorce in 1990 and had recently been treating the other for complications from her divorce.)
Leritz describes himself in a letter to the state medical commission as "an officer and a gentleman" and "a kind, caring, competent psychiatrist who fell in love with two women."
It's not sex, though, but money that is the no. 1 reason given for divorce, and while this usually refers to the debilitating indebtedness of the lower and middle classes, billionaires are not exempt. Exhibit One: The biggest divorce case in Washington history, that of Craig and Wendy McCaw, of the billion-dollar McCaw telecommunications empire. If the McCaws had a problem with money, it was only because they had so much of it. That has led to a remarkable case of getting even.
When they married in 1974, the happy Kirkland couple was worth a paltry few million. But when the McCaws divorced—officially on November 4 last year after almost three years of court proceedings—they were worth an estimated $2 billion. Much of that was Craig's share of the sale of McCaw Cellular to AT&T for $11.5 billion in 1994. (Craig filed for divorce a few months later.) The childless McCaws won't publicly reveal settlement details or talk about the divorce that apparently both agreed was for the best (the thrill was gone, but they still had the Gulfstream V jet on alternate weekends). According to court records and several people familiar with the case, it was "housewife" Wendy who outdueled wheeler-dealer Craig for millions in assets. They say that as the case progressed and Wendy increased her demand for up to half of the holdings, Craig's attorneys inundated her with paperwork and a team of expert evaluators. At one point, Craig had enlisted 33 forensic financial experts and turned over 147,000 pages of paperwork to Wendy's attorneys in an attempt to prove what was his and what was hers. The documents filled more than 5,000 boxes.
Wendy struck back. She enlisted 30 experts of her own to appraise assets and track and sort out the vast McCaw global properties. She also retaliated with 58,000 pages of paperwork to contest Craig's evaluations. She raised such legal issues as gender bias and, apparently referring to a post-nuptial agreement she signed a few years after their marriage, "historical changes in societal perceptions of marriage... [and] human capital investments made by homemakers in general and [Wendy] in particular," according to court records.
Then the power move: Wendy served papers on Bill Gates and the Boeing Co. Both are involved in Craig McCaw's new satellite global-data venture, Teledesic. Wendy wanted them to turn over their partnership papers to compare them with Craig's figures. The world's biggest airplane-maker and the world's richest man cried foul. They were suddenly being dragged into a local divorce spat and forced to spend time and money revealing what they felt were sensitive and confidential secrets (such as, aha, Boeing's plans to invest millions more in Teledesic, according to documents). Wendy persisted. She had already sought volumes of confidential records from miffed McCaw family members. The pressure was on Craig. Within a few months, the McCaws settled. Wendy got several boats and planes, four homes in California, and gajillions in cash and stock, joining Craig as equal-share holder of such telecom properties as Nextlink (worth $800 million in McCaw holdings alone).
If money is the best revenge, homemaker Wendy got it. Observers estimate her cut, at least its future value, comes close to the $1 billion she sought. "They're divorced," says an attorney, "but now they're partners for life." All the good stuff without having to live together? Hey, hold down the cheering out there!
Everything you need to know about divorce in Washington and elsewhere