Oblique Divorce Strategy #2: Tell the same part of your divorce story three different ways to evoke different responses.
We can all tell a part of our life story to almost anyone in a way that evokes the reaction we want. This may be what’s called “conversation.” For the last several months I’ve been working on a series of monographs on Toxic Divorce. This third monograph describes and analyzes the worst Toxic Divorce since Jan. 1, 1970, which was when the No-Fault Era began.
The parties were Elisabeth Anne (Betty) and Daniel (Dan) Broderick. The powerful Los Angeles Times reporter Bella Stumbo, included Betty’s story with her own objective reporting in the True Crime, Edgar Award-winning, 700-page Until the Twelfth of Never. (It’s out of print but available as a Kindle book and free with Kindle Unlimited.)
As an example of how easy it to tell the same story in different ways, I will imagine how Betty might tailor her story of “The Elisor.”
The three versions of the story could be titled as follows:
Version One: “How I stood up to the judge in my sociopath’s pocket.”
Version Two: “Who’s more determined to take what’s mine? My sociopathic husband or my lawyer?”
Version Three: “You think the Church will protect your marriage? Let me tell you about the Elisor.”
This column will tell Version One and introduce Version Two. The next column will complete Version Two and tell Version Three. The final column will include Bella Stumbo’s gobsmacking account of what “really” happened followed by comments on how this material can be instructive.
• • •
Version One. Betty Broderick is an attractive, intense woman in her early forties. She is flying across country and sitting next to a man in his fifties. He is deeply engaged with a crossword puzzle.
Betty’s Objective: Tell this man the Elisor story. Impress him with how Dan’s influence over the court results in an abuse of power and impress him with the way I’ve stood up to the court and to my sociopathic doctor-lawyer husband.
Betty observed, “You work from a book, not the newspaper.”
The man replied, “What?”
“You solve crosswords from a book rather than from a newspaper. Are they more difficult?”
The man says, “I should say so. I’m a pretty compulsive crossword puzzler. After you’ve done enough of them, the ones in the newspapers get repetitive. These books are expensive because the puzzles are hard but fair; they’re ingenious and usually funny. I’d like to be in the business of designing them. I’ve been a word-nut all my life. English words — I’m enchanted by all of them and their sounds.”
Betty was somewhat taken aback. She suspected this man said more about himself in a few sentences than he told most people over the course of years. Her hesitation caused him to start to withdraw; his thoughts mirrored hers. He’d said too much: TMI. She didn’t want to let him off the hook. She didn’t decide what to say next; it just happened. It wouldn’t have happened to Old Betty because Old Betty didn’t have it in her.
Betty said, “This is a red eye, which means we’ll be sleeping together whether you like it or not, so I’m going to introduce myself. I’m Elisabeth Anne Broderick. Most people call me Betty.”
The man’s instinct was to get back to his crossword puzzle. What just happened? This attractive, younger woman announced that she planned to sleep with him. It was a joke, of course, but still. He could pretend that he didn’t hear what she said. But the truth was that no woman had ever told him she was going to sleep with him. It had never happened. He was fifty-one, and it wasn’t likely to happen again. So he said, “Hugh, Hugh Janssen. I’m looking forward to getting to know you better.”
So far so good, thought Betty, “A pleasure to meet you Hugh Janssen. Since you love English so much, I wonder if you’ve ever come across a word that’s always caused me a lot of trouble.”
“Yes. It’s elisor.” [She correctly pronounced the word ē/ lī-zer.]
Hugh responds, “I’ve seen it in puzzles. I’ve never heard anyone use it in a sentence.”
It’s Betty’s opening, “How about, ‘my sociopathic husband and his courthouse buddies appointed an ELISOR to sign a deed to my house so he could sell it out from under me without my consent.’”
“That’s quite a sentence. Is it a demonstration of the word or something that happened?”
Betty answered, “It’s as real as real can be. My husband is one of the best and most powerful trial lawyers in San Diego. He happens to be president of the Bar Association and he’s leaving his four children and me for a woman who’s not much more than an uneducated child herself. He decided that he wanted to sell our house on Coral Reef and he just did it.”
“Did you object?”
“Hell yes I objected. He and that realtor wanted to give it away.”
Hugh asked, “You didn’t have your name on the deed?”
“That’s the whole point!” exclaimed Betty. “My name was on the deed. It was on the title. Daniel and Elisabeth Broderick, husband and wife, as community property.”
“So,” said Hugh, “I’ve purchased and sold some real estate over the years. You could have just refused to sign the deed. Who would buy property without a deed signed by all owners?”
Betty replied triumphantly, “Welcome to the real world Hugh Janssen! If one owner doesn’t want to sign and the other has the court in his pocket, he just makes an appointment with a judge. They leave a phone message for the other owner. Something like: ‘You better get your butt to this courtroom in four hours or the Clerk of the Court is going to be ordered to sign a deed to your house and sell it for less than you think it’s worth.”
Hugh disbelievingly asked, “And you didn’t get the message?”
“Oh, I got the message. I listened to it while the judge’s secretary was talking.”
“But you couldn’t get to court on time?”
“I got there.”
“I told the judge that Dan was giving the house away to spite me.”
“Then what happened?”
“The judge said something like, ‘Thanks for sharing. Will you sign the deed right now or do I have to order the clerk of the court to act as an ELISOR to do it for you?”
Hugh was no longer interested in his crossword, “What did you say?”
“I told the judge to do what he had to do, and that he better be careful to please Dan Broderick.”
Hugh said, “You didn’t really say that.”
“Oh, yes I did.”
“I know this judge. He’s in Dan’s pocket. He said, ‘What did you just say, Ms. Broderick?’ I already had my back to him and was on my way out of the torture chamber. I didn’t look back and announced ‘I’m getting out of here.’ The judge said, ‘I think that’s a good idea.’ So that, Hugh Janssen, is what ELISOR means.”
• • •
Version Two. When Betty told Version One of the Elisor Story to Hugh Janssen, her voice was loud enough for the younger man sitting in the seat across the aisle to hear every word.
He couldn’t help interjecting, “Your lawyer should have been able to put a stop to that.”
The comment sounded like music to Betty’s ears.
Betty’s Objective: Demonstrate that she’s a victim of corrupt lawyers and a corrupt legal system.
She says, “Oh, don’t get me started on lawyers. Especially my so-called lawyer. Or, more accurately, Not-My Lawyer.”
He says, “I’m an attorney, and I’ve just started doing some real estate work. I’ve never heard of an Elisor. I’d like to hear more, such as: What was your lawyer doing while all this was going on.”
Betty said, “He was sitting on his butt in his Beverly Hills office.”
“He couldn’t get to San Diego in four hours or at least get someone to stand in for him?”
Betty explained, “My lawyer or ex-lawyer or almost-my-lawyer is a bit of a pig. My sociopathic husband is out to take anything he can get from me. Everyone thinks lawyers protect a client from that, but what they don’t understand is the voracious appetite of the divorce lawyer.
“I signed an agreement that allows him to charge me huge hourly rates for any work he or one of his flunkies does on my case. They get paid for good work and for bad work. They get paid to drive in traffic, and they get paid to sit in court on their duffs waiting for the case to be called. When it’s called they get up and say, “We’ve agreed to continue this matter for a month, Your Honor.” Your Honor tells them that it’s “Very Well,” and I get charged for the time it takes this genius, my knight on a white horse, to ride back to Beverly Hills, in traffic.
“They also like to work in private. It’s frustrating to get a bill that says, “Research: Elisor process: 5.0 hours.” That’s that — No witness, no evidence. We’re your lawyers, and we are here to help you; trust us.”
“Maybe you should have a San Diego lawyer.”
“You didn’t hear: My sociopathic husband is the most powerful trial lawyer in San Diego, and he’s president of the Bar Association. No San Diego lawyer will take him on.”
“Maybe you need someone else from L.A.”
“It’s too late on this house deal. My so-called lawyer turned out to be my sociopath’s tool. Another lawyer and another tool. What’s the point?”
“How did they take your house from you?”
Betty asked, “Do you want the whole story?”
“Okay, my Not-My-Lawyer was in on the whole thing. He, my sociopath and the sociopath’s lawyer were in cahoots to sell my house out from under me. They did. But it didn’t work out too well for Not-My-Lawyer.”
To be continued …
In the meantime, consider: Under what circumstances would a person want to do her best to tell a version of this story that was as close as she could make it to her understanding of the truth?
— Brian H. Burke is a certified family law specialist practicing family law and mediation in Santa Barbara. A researcher and educator in the field of divorce and family conflicts, he is also the creator of the Legal Road Map™. Click here for more information, call 805.965.2888 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.