Train Wrecks: McGreevey v. McGreevey

Everything we didn’t really want to know about the former governor and his wife has come out at their ugly divorce trial

“If you had it to do all over again,” the girl said, “would you do something else?”

“Nobody has it to do all over again,” Craig said.

— Irwin Shaw, Evening in Byzantium

SOME 60,000 NEW Jersey couples filed for divorce in 2007, the detritus of their marriages floating through 21 county courthouses — promises of “Till death do us part” that morphed into “Till lawyers do us part.” Tucked away in Room 105 of the Union County Courthouse in Elizabeth lies a bulging folder containing the tattered remains of such a union, one that began on a brilliant sunny day in the shadow of the White House and ended on another sunny day inside the New Jersey Statehouse, at a press conference where millions of people watched it crumble, live, behind a podium.

In the beginning, Docket Number FM-20-01166-07G, the Complaint for Divorce between James E. McGreevey, plaintiff, and Dina Matos McGreevey, defendant, showed all sorts of promise, if a divorce proceeding can actually show promise. In his initial filing of February 2, 2007, the disgraced ex-governor of New Jersey was downright cheery. In his motion, he stated that the two parties had mutually agreed to end their marriage and had basically worked out a tentative settlement addressing issues of alimony, custody, child support and parenting time for their five-year-old-daughter, Jacqueline. The document laid out a vision for a very grown-up approach to the split, conjuring the image of two devoted parents committed to dissolving their marriage with dignity and reserve.

A year and a half later, that vision lies in tatters, as anyone following the McGreevey divorce saga can tell you. Read the motions, counter-motions and assorted other legal hand grenades each side has lobbed at the other over that period, and you can almost trace, like a stock chart, the plummeting fortunes of the McGreevey civil discourse. Dina alleged that Jim exposed their daughter to homoerotic art and used her to sell copies of his memoir; she also rolled out a wheelbarrow of past slights, like the accusation that she and Jacqueline were in a car accident and Jim didn’t come to the hospital because he was in the middle of his morning workout. Jim returned fire with equal brio, accusing his estranged wife of emotionally manipulating Jacqueline, being a homophobe, and simply morphing into, more or less, “a bitter, vengeful woman.”

As the months have ground on, the couple’s brawl has devolved into the kind of ludicrous pettiness usually reserved for catfights among sixth-grade girls. The McGreeveys haggled over the drop-off point for Jacqueline’s visitations with Jim, down to whether a Barnes & Noble located 9.63 miles from Dina’s house (a MapQuest set of directions was actually entered into evidence) was a fair spot. (This bickering alone, which eventually amounted to whether Jacqueline would spend 22 minutes in the car vs. 31 minutes in the car, went on for two months.) Last November, Jim went right to court rather than work out a deal with Dina over Jacqueline’s American Girl birthday party, a move that caused the aggrieved judge in the case, Karen Cassidy, to declare the whole affair “out of control” and scold both parents, opining that “the hatred you two have for each other overrides everything.”