Divorcing In Queens And Want To Avoid Publicity? Then Get A Good Attorney.
Sometimes there are divorce stories that really get to the heart of how radically different each state’s laws around divorce are, and how significantly that can affect the outcome of a divorce. Over in Iowa, the state’s junior U.S. senator, Republican Joni Ernst, announced last August that she and her husband, Gail Ernst, were divorcing.
In the cavalcade of news that defines the current era, the statement was missed by most and the divorce played out in relative privacy. It was finalized in January, and the episode would largely have been forgotten if not for a small weekly alternative paper in Des Moines, Cityview.
It turns out that under Iowa law, divorce records become public when the divorce is finalized unless the parties ask for more privacy, and in the finest tradition of tabloids the world over, Cityview got hold of the documents and published. The senator’s lawyers promptly asked a judge for further protection of the records, but the genie was already out of the bottle.
Ernst isn’t just another Republican Senator in a Republican Senate. She’s the vice chair of the Senate Republican Conference, the fourth-highest ranking slot on that side of the chamber. She is one of only two Republican women ever to serve on the Senate Judiciary Committee. Ernst, a retired lieutenant colonel from the Iowa Army National Guard, is also the first female combat veteran to serve in the U.S. Senate, and the first woman to ever represent Iowa. She is widely viewed as a rising star in the party, and gave the Republican response to President Obama’s State of the Union address on January 20, 2015, just weeks after she was sworn in.
One tidbit that the political press has been savoring from the divorce filing is the revelation that Ernst was contacted about potentially serving as Donald Trump’s vice presidential running mate in 2016, but she turned it down and the campaign ultimately chose Mike Pence, then governor of Indiana.
“In the summer of 2016, I was interviewed by Candidate Trump to be vice president of the United States. I turned Candidate Trump down, knowing it wasn’t the right thing for me or my family,” the Guardian reported, based on an affidavit filed as part of the divorce. “I continued to make sacrifices and not soar higher out of concern for Gail and our family,” she continued. She accused Gail of petty jealousy, saying he “hated any successes I had and would belittle me and get angry any time I achieved a goal.”
Gail rebutted his now ex-wife’s assertions in his own filing, saying that he was supportive of her career and that it was he who sacrificed for the good of the relationship. “I gave up all my aspirations and goals to be a good dad and husband so Joni could pursue her dreams,” he wrote.
The couple were married for 26 years, tying the knot in 1992 after Joni graduated from Iowa State University. Gail, who is seventeen years older than his wife, was in the Army, and while Joni had initially planned to stay at Iowa State to pursue a master’s degree, she instead moved with him to a posting in Georgia, then to other postings as an Army wife.
She served in the Reserves as well, attending regular drills and raising their daughter, now 19. According to the divorce filings, Gail would often jokingly refer to Joni as his retirement plan, something that his much younger wife did not find amusing.
Gail retired from the Army in 2001, allowing the family to finally move back to Iowa and live there full time, close to their families. In 2003 and 2004, Joni was deployed to Kuwait and Iraq with the Iowa National Guard. Upon her return, she decided that public service was in her future, and she was elected the Montgomery County Auditor in 2005, a position she held until 2011.
What should have been a happy time for the family turned bleak when, according to Joni’s filings, Gail developed a “special friendship” with their daughter’s babysitter. She claims that he spent time at the babysitter’s house even when their daughter wasn’t there. She says that when she confronted him about the relationship, he became violent with her.
She was forced to flee to her mother’s house with their daughter in tow, but Gail arrived soon after to apologize, reportedly in tears. Joni wrote that she “very nearly filed for divorce after a night that we argued, and it became physical.” The following day, Joni went to the courthouse and a victim’s advocate examined injuries on her throat and head. The advocate wanted to take her to the hospital, but she said that she was “embarrassed and humiliated” and didn’t want people to know that she’d been assaulted by her husband.
They began marriage counseling, but Joni says that Gail asked her not to discuss the attack, and “I stupidly agreed.” The relationship has been broken ever since, and while Ernst has not made her personal history a part of her campaign or her time in office, she has been firm in her stance opposing domestic violence. “Abuse is never OK,” she told CNN in February 2018, when then-White House aide Rob Porter had been accused by two ex-wives of domestic violence. “We need to send a very clear signal that it won’t be tolerated,” she said.
She has also worked to end sexual assault in the military, a cause that she had said stemmed from her time working for a women’s crisis shelter while she was a student. Recently though, apparently in response to the divorce filing being made public, Ernst has revealed that she was raped by a boyfriend during college.
In an interview with Bloomberg News, she said, “I didn’t want to share it with anybody, and in the era of #MeToo survivors, I always believed that every person is different and they will confront their demons when they’re ready. And I was not ready.”
Both sides have accused the other of infidelity during the marriage – and both sides have denied any affairs – and Ernst, who is up for re-election in 2020, has complained that her now ex-husband “is doing everything he can to destroy me and ruin my chance for re-election.” During the divorce, Gail sought $4,000 a month in alimony and $10,000 in attorney fees, citing his wife’s $14,500 salary, but in the end, the judge denied alimony and both were forced to pay their own lawyers.
It’s extremely unusual for the lurid details of a politician’s divorce to be splashed all over their hometown newspaper, as The Des Moines Register has for the Ernst divorce. Under New York law, such a disclosure would not have happened, and it’s unclear why Ernst’s lawyers didn’t take stronger steps to preserve her confidentiality before the divorce was finalized.
If your marriage in Queens is ending, get experienced help right away to protect the things you cherish most. Call Zelenitz, Shapiro & D’Agostino today at 718-523-1111 for a free consultation with an experienced Queens divorce and child custody attorney.