I was asked by several readers about Betty Broderick after the reference in my August article. Betty and Dan Broderick had a notoriously nasty divorce in the late 80’s in San Diego. He was a successful and powerful attorney and was able to use and exploit the “old boys club” in a manner that was devastating to Betty both emotionally and financially. Even after the 5+ yearlong divorce process, there was a continued battle about custody and child support. In a heartbreaking turn, Betty killed Dan and his new wife in 1989. After 2 criminal trials she was convicted of 2d degree murder and still remains in prison.

Betty had many reasons to be angry with Dan. When they married, he was finishing medical school and then decided to go to law school. She worked, supported him, and lived like a pauper. In the first 10 years of their marriage there were 9 pregnancies, 5 children were born and 4 survived. When Dan did start making it big, he began an affair with his assistant, and lied to Betty about it for years. He left their home claiming he needed “space” but was actually using the time to plot out his divorce strategy.

Unfortunately, Betty channeled her anger in ways that were unproductive to her and harmful to their children. Rather than work with her attorneys to try to reach an equitable settlement or proceed to trial, she fought with each and every one and ended up conducting the trial herself, with terrible results.

Being it was the late 80’s, Dan purchased a new-fangled answering machine. Once Betty discovered this, she would leave lengthy, abusive ,and obscene messages that not only could Dan hear, but their 4 children as well.

Betty placed the children in the center of their fight, constantly saying vicious and painful things to them. When she wouldn’t stop, Dan started taping conversations between Betty and the children. Not only did this hurt her in the custody dispute, but probably sank her in the second murder trial as well.

What could she have done differently? First and foremost, she should have committed to a course of therapy. One of her friends recommended that she go in-patient, which probably would have been very helpful. While Betty took some stabs at therapy, she never made an earnest attempt to look at the ramifications of her actions.

Many times, someone going through a divorce or custody dispute does not want to seek help (medication, therapy) because they think it will “hurt “ them with a Court. Generally, the opposite is true. Judges would much rather see a parent take actions to help herself than to disintegrate in a manner that hurts the children and the parent/child relationship.

“Wellness” was not talked about in the 80’s. We now recognize how important it is. Self-destructive behavior rarely has a happy ending. Being “well” can take you through tough times and to a way better outcome.

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