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Cathy Meyer

Divorce: Scorched-Earth Litigation Approach

By July 2, 2012

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How would you respond if the person divorcing you seemed intent on also destroying you financially and emotionally?

During war a scorched earth policy happens when retreating armies destroy or dismantle everything in the path of their advancing opponents to deprive them of shelter, food, natural resources, working factories, anything that might be of use to them.

The same tactic can be used during divorce by a spouse who turns into a "divorce warrior" on a path of not only dissolving the marriage but destroying his/her spouse in the process. What does scorched-earth divorce litigation look like?

I'll use Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and Mary Richardson Kennedy's divorce as an example. Mary Kennedy who had suffered from depression and alcoholism during her life committed suicide on May 16, 2012.

This was after months and moths of Robert Kennedy accusing her of abuse, child endangerment and him withholding financial support. According to a petition filed last week in Surrogate's Court in Westchester County, Mary's divorce attorneys say she had to, "scrounge for cash the final months of her life."

The petition outlines how Robert Kennedy's "litigation tactics" caused Mary to live with daily financial struggles. He had agreed to continue to pay her household and legal expenses by giving her a credit card with a monthly limit. When he failed to live up to that agreement Mary was put in a position of having to ask friends and family for financial help.

Add to that Kennedy's accusations of child endangerment and Mary, a loving mother could only see her children during supervised visitation. One has to wonder what role the divorce played in Mary's suicide.

Below are some commonly used tactics when a spouse turns into a "divorce warrior."

1. Delays and Continuances: the person with the most power over a particular issue benefits from delay.  This person will often go to great lengths to make the divorce last longer.

2. Parental Alienation: This is one of the oldest and ugliest of the dirty divorce tricks.  Although parental alienation has not yet made its way into the arena of psychology and psychiatry as an official diagnosis, it happens all the time and courts know it.

3. Cut off Access to Cash and Marital Assets:
One spouse plans for divorce and leaves the other totally unprepared.  If your spouse was controlling or sneaky during the marriage, that is how they're going to be during the divorce.  Cutting off access to your assets unfortunately makes it difficult for you to hire a lawyer, feed your children or pay your mortgage. Without money you won't get far in the divorce process and a scorched-earth spouse knows this.

Adversarial divorce is a prolonged exposure to fear that, for some ends in Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. It isn't uncommon for victims of a scorched-earth divorce to have problems sleeping, intense anxiety, and feelings of hopelessness, guilt and shame.

This isn't a scenario that is unusual in divorce. People go through this every day and are walking around with this stress on their shoulders right under our noses. If you have a friend or relative who is going through a divorce, don't take it for granted that all is well just because they appear to be functioning.

July 2, 2012 at 1:26 pm
(1) Beverly Willett says:

Great article, Cathy. I especially like the last part. To that I would add — “And stop telling mothers like Mary to just get over it and move on with their lives. You’ve no idea the hell people might be going through, especially if you’ve never gone through anything like this yourself.”

July 2, 2012 at 1:50 pm
(2) Pauline Gaines says:

I had not heard that the filing by MK’s divorce attorney had been released, but I am not at all surpised to learn of the tactics. And I agree 100% with Beverly’s statement — reasonable people just have no idea what it’s like to be overpowered for years by these scorched-earth types.

July 9, 2012 at 2:11 pm
(3) Kari says:

I was so glad to finally see some attention to this type of divorce. I am a survivor of a scorched-earth divorce. I was open with my ex over initiating divorce proceedings and even more so with finances. What ensued was a destroy all mentality directed toward myself and the kids. It seemed that the reward for him was in attempting to leave me and the kids with no assets yet all the marital debt even though I had been fair and honest in the divorce proceedings. It took him three lawyers and he still was not able to scorch all the earth. I am now happy and I am able to provide a home for my children. It took some time though because of the scorched earth mentality my ex had.

July 9, 2012 at 3:06 pm
(4) Rich says:

My observation is that divorce seldom makes people better persons. By the time a divorce occurs, each person has their own grievances. Maybe it’s minor- leaving the lid off the mayonnaise or dirty clothes on the floor- or maybe it’s major- an affair, financial “affairs.” When it devolves to “You cheated” and “You spend too much,” there’s little incentive to be reasonable, fair, even civil. The other person has damaged you, your expectations, your image, your life.

It’s difficult to treat someone well when they’re so deficient. If you’re on the losing end of finances or parental alienation, you can only take the high road and live with what you’ve got left. Not an easy pill to swallow.

July 9, 2012 at 3:09 pm
(5) Emma's Grandma says:

WOW, they actually have a name for it. Not only was my life a scorched earth due to the ex’s chronic medical issues so was the divorce that he initiated. He did not so much drag it out as he tried to hide or spend everything before it ended, and force me out of the house even though he was moving out of state. Even after the divorce, while waiting for the QDRO to be done he & his lawyer still withheld money & deed illegally. It was only after theats to take them both to court for violating the Dual Judgment of Divorce did I finally get things done, yes his lawyer actually illegally withheld douments. I went fro mcaregiver stress to post traumatic divorce syndrome, only saving grace was i had been seeing a therapist for a few years dealing with the caregiver stress.

July 9, 2012 at 6:20 pm
(6) Ana Downing says:

My Court Day was schedule for July 11, 2012, but my Narcissist husband is acting like a mary-go-around, he is still trying to avoid going to court since there is a G.A.L. from a local attorney who made some investigations on the emotional, psychological, verbal abuse he put me through. I can understand how this man ones to get away by not payin me spousal support and insurance. Even though our daughter is not yet emmancipated, I wanted for her and I to go to counseling, but he dragging things around, and lying to no end to our kids about how bad of a mother I’m, just because I excersice my rights to flee in sept. 2010 to a domestic violance shelter, but left my teenagers behind. I had a brake down and I live in a constant struggle, with much anxiety, because i never now in which other way he is going to hit low. I tell you though Im thinking in asking the Judge to put me back in the house until it sell and Im also going back to take self defense classes to be fit and ready to fight him sort of Jennifer Lopez in the movie “Enough”. Thank you for this newsletter, i learn something new today! Dorca

July 9, 2012 at 9:34 pm
(7) Ltr says:

It appears both people try this in different ways without realizing it. I am now in a delay. Could be another 2 months before we see a judge. My wasbund is in lala land. He speaks at me like he still has a relationship with me. That won’t happen until after all decisions are made, divorce is final and wounds are scabbed over. Until then I try to stop myself from scorching and being the victim of being scorched. I thought in the beginning I would try to hold Onto some dignity. Forget it. I’m a jello mess and in complete divorce brain fog. Just like childbirth, there will be an end to the pain and something beautiful awaits. Good luck.

July 10, 2012 at 1:14 am
(8) paula says:

I was recently diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress and each day is filled with fear, loss, loneliness, betrayal and unrelenting sadness. I struggle just to survive and much of this is at the hands of my cruel, dishonest and uncaring ex-husband who perpetuates hatred and will not even acknowledge my existence. My 3 sons suffer also, but are afraid of his wrath that caused me to run for my life after33 years. I have not been able to move on because there was no closure….just thrown away like trash. I doubt I can survive financially, emotionally, physically and spiritually. I accept that I am not loved but shouldn’t a man care about the wellbeing of the mother of his children? There is little hope an even less confidence I will survive the soul crushing reality I now face.

July 10, 2012 at 1:24 am
(9) Hazel says:

Paula, Although you are today and many days feeling like you won’t make it, PLEASE, go to a crisis center and talk to somebody who will listen and direct you to resources to gain strength. Divorce is difficult, especially with children involved but you can become stronger and fight on. Fight for your life!! Fight for your children’s lives….I sending thoughts of wisdom and strength to you and about you. YOU ARE NOT ALONE!!!

July 10, 2012 at 1:27 am
(10) darwin says:

Before we make Mary a Martyr, some women tend to allow their own personal and previous issues bleed into their marriage and make terrible wifes. Then they become so surprised by the divorce or the tactics that occur. If more women became better wifes then would not be subjected to playing the victim.

July 10, 2012 at 2:34 am
(11) LALASO says:

My husband is intend on destroying me emotionally. He goes to my friends and family and lie about me. He is dragging the divorce settlement negotiations by asking for things he know I will not give. He is asking for my car, that I should maintain him and the house I am staying in, when he has two other houses. He is deleberately hurting me.

July 10, 2012 at 9:14 am
(12) Helga says:

After 9 hours of mediation Via Skype, a separation agreement was written however, my husband said he was too tired to read the final draft and did not sign it, that was 10 days ago. I guess he just can’t give up the control or any assets to me.

August 17, 2012 at 1:02 pm
(13) Ana says:

This is a very sad ending for this woman. Im feed up with this system. There is certainly no justice on earth. After 19months of trying to get a GAL to ask the court to send me and my teenager daughter to counseling, nothing was able to be done! Why because we never made it to court, my narcissistic husband does not want to face justice and does not want my daughter and I to go to counseling. He is taking forever to provide my lawyer with the home payoff and the “geothermo”, installed in the house in 2009. (to me he is defenetely hiding something)
I can only hope now that my lawyer stay loyal to my case and make all of his dirty raggs come out. I was totally depress yesterday. My daugther’s birthday was yesterday and she wouln’t even speak to me! I left her texts mggs, voice mails, call all day long and nothing! “just silent, indifference in her part”. My kids dont speak to me! I lost them! to a very angry man. I live in other people houses, and its so sad that my entirely whole family is in Panama. I DO MISS MY KIDS!

August 17, 2012 at 1:23 pm
(14) Tonnia says:

Darwin I think you really live in a blue “bubble” I there you say us women aren’t good wifes and mothers. Let me tell yo I’m a good mother, and lets not talk about “sex”, I’m good too. When a man carries his baggage from a previous marriage there is something defenitevely wrong. My husband 1rst wife divorce after a year!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I wonder why. Listen Darwin you are a door matt, I feel sorry for you. You are the reason man feel entitle to use and abuse any human being. NOT EVEN JESUS thought the men to abuse the women. READ the bible. I tell you nobody’s is Perfect not EVEN YOU! ant to everything there is a limit. I hope you die being the PERFECT WIFE you think you are! To all the other ladies I feel your pain, because just like JESUS I have true compassion for you and for what you are going throughout. Never give UP! Keep your fight don’t allow anyone not even DARWIN discourage you! You have done your part I know that. Ladies thank you for the courage to express your feelings.

December 12, 2012 at 5:11 pm
(15) John Doe says:

I just read your article, and what you have described is the exact thing I am going through. My soon to be X wife sneaked behind my back and took everything from me with false allegations (she was the abuser during the marriage, and claimed she was the victim, hired a dirty lawyer and started a litigation battle). I ended up kicked out of my house, not seeing my son for over a month, no job (my business was being run from my house), not much money, only credit cards with enough credit limit to hire a lawyer to defend myself and get me by until I got back on my feet (to some extent).

I managed to reveal the truth and defend my good name. Yet she has been delaying and stalling endlessly, and it’s been almost a year now, still denying me access to the marital house & assets, also insisting on child custody domination. She has attempted alienation as well, luckily my son and I are so bonded, she was unable to break that…but the damage was done nonetheless, she is still holding on to the “advantage” she received with the false allegations, refusing to be fair and amicable.

I find this to be such a cruel and dirty tactic, it saddens me to know that there are so many others like me going through this. Not everyone has the strength to cope with such a brutal spouse.

She wants me to give up and “surrender” to her ridiculous demands, I cannot do that, I will never give up on my son. I suspect it will take me at least another year to get this resolved properly, probably more.

My heart goes out to every single one of you who is or has been in my position, good luck to all of us – stay strong.

December 13, 2012 at 3:39 pm
(16) Miller says:

I found this aritcle by chance. I felt someone was writing about me. Right now I am in survival mode. I am a mother of 3 precious children and my husband has placed me through a lot. No one understands what I have been through and explaining never helped. This article did. I just have to keep building myself up stronger so that I can get myself and our children in a better place all he way around

July 29, 2013 at 9:47 am
(17) DJ says:

Yes, This happened to me and it sucks! I was a stay at home dad and wife deserted me and filed for divorce. I had no money and homeless from this. She did a bunch of legal work and got an order that I pay her $6K per month, even though she was the only one gainfully employed through the entire marriage!

This scorched earth worked for her but should be illegal! I had no money to represent myself and the kids don’t know who I am since I have no car or assets or cash to service! UGH $400K in debt in 2 years when I won’t recover. COURT SYSTEM SUCKS TO ALLOW THIS!

September 9, 2013 at 1:23 pm
(18) Sara says:

It’s like a loaded gun aimed at your head each and every day. I wish the trigger were pulled already!

September 13, 2013 at 4:02 pm
(19) georgiegirl says:

Robert Kennedy, Jr. knew that Mary was fragile, and his treatment of her during their separation could only add to her problems. You can either be a decent human being when things go wrong in your marriage, or you can be a ‘pos’. Some people will do anything to make the spouse ‘pay’, while others will do the legal and moral things so that each of you can move on.

November 26, 2013 at 9:54 am
(20) Kenyan says:

Forcing Robert into Indentured servitude for Mary’s personal benefit is a non-starter. If Robert was the “Provider” in the marriage and Mary the “Homemaker” how does Mary compensate Robert for his loss of Homemaking? I mean if she feels entitled to him being forced to provide forever what is her end of this relationship? Tell Mary and other deadbeat losers like her to get a job, move-on with her life and allow Robert to do so also. Nobody should be forced into Slavery.

January 1, 2014 at 3:04 pm
(21) Frankie says:

I am currently in the middle of the very same situation my exes and failed random urinalysis for opiates while in open court his lawyer will not even submit a prescription relevant to it and beating the kids with a belt … it’s amazing how many narcissistic accomplices will continue covering the narcissist even after they know what he is

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