Divorce pranks: You might think it’s funny, but the judge won’t laugh
From Friday’s Globe and Mail
Published Thursday, Aug. 18, 2011 5:24PM EDT
It was with great reluctance that Dany Larivière hauled away the boulder he’d gleefully dumped on his ex-wife’s driveway just a day earlier.
Plucked from a quarry and lugged by front-end loader in the dead of night Monday, the 20-ton rock was spray-painted with fluorescent orange birthday wishes for “Isa,” then topped with a pink bow.
“She never had a rock big enough for her tastes, now she has one,” Mr. Larivière quipped to the local paper in St-Théodore-d’Acton, Que., where he is also mayor.
The prank got international attention and earned Mr. Larivière possible mischief and harassment charges – another ugly turn in his lengthy, acrimonious split from former wife Isabelle Prévost.
“I thought of Sisyphus as I read the story,” said Harold Niman, a family lawyer with Niman Zemans Gelgoot. “It’s part of the ongoing struggle that one of the people is having with their perceived wrongs, within the marriage or within the judicial system or otherwise. This is them acting out in the only way they know how to, and it’s not something they’re going to be contrite about later.”
While boulder dumping may be a unique tactic (Mr. Larivière owns an excavation company), divorce “pranks” are all too common.
“Couples who are going through a divorce process are quite often temporarily insane,” says family lawyer Phil Epstein of Epstein Cole. “It’s the worst time in their lives and sometimes the pressure gets to them and they do things they wouldn’t normally do.”
Like taking hammers and screwdrivers to a spouse’s car when it is discovered “in a compromising position,” parked in front of the mistress’s house, Mr. Epstein says.
“People have taken chainsaws to inanimate objects,” the family lawyer offers casually, adding that others prefer to strew their exes’ lawns with garbage or play hide-and-seek with precious items.
credit card and the other spouse goes on a tear, so you’ll see [bills from] European Jewellery, Chanel.” Then there’s the spousal-support cheque: Many spouses will scribble vulgarities on the cheque, which the ex must then endorse to get the money. Some are more inventive: “I’ve seen people staple spiders to a support cheque – a tarantula,” says Mr. Epstein.Wine is another tool in spousal warfare, especially since the wine lover may have been forced to move out, leaving the cellar behind temporarily.
“I’ve heard of people with such rage that they go downstairs to the cellar, steam off all the labels and then mix up the bottles,” says McCarthy Tétrault family lawyer Stephen Grant. “If you think you’re drinking a $30 bottle of Côtes du Rhône and it turns out you’re drinking a $300 Château Lafite with hamburgers one night instead of filet, it’s quite upsetting.”
Mr. Niman recalls a wine-collecting husband who returned from a tryst to find his wife in the street, emptying his bottles down a sewer grate. “Not quite as bad as cutting off his penis, I suppose, but I guess it’s figuratively doing that, isn’t it?” says Mr. Niman.
While Mr. Larivière’s boulder stunt has been widely treated as a gag, the recipient rarely sees it that way.
“They see this as an invasion of privacy, that their spouse is unhinged,” says Mr. Epstein. “It makes them … ask the question: ‘If you dump a rock on my property, what else are you capable of doing?’ ”
Mr. Larivière’s three-year split from his wife has seethed with animosity: Ms. Prévost had harassed him, threatening to report him to tax authorities unless he gave her cash payments and real estate, he said. She, meanwhile, accused the mayor of physical and verbal abuse and said she feared for her two children when Mr. Larivière won joint custody after the couple finally divorced last year.
“This story is a powerful example of how family litigation can leave an enduring legacy of bitterness, despite the outcome,” says Victoria Smith, a collaborative family lawyer and family mediator. “This is not a joke – this was retribution, this was a public humiliation of the wife, despite the fact that the court case ended last year and the husband won joint custody.”
As for the couple’s children, a 12-year-old boy and a nine-year-old girl, “Imagine them waking up to find a boulder in their mother’s driveway, their driveway,” says Ms. Smith.
So why do spouses do it?
“The party that is pranking really feels like they are the victim. They’re not getting the vindication they’re looking for,” particularly in the division of assets, says Deborah Moskovitch, divorce consultant and author of The Smart Divorce.
According to family mediator and divorce coach Sarah Mecklinger, betrayal is the main motivator, “whether that’s having done away with all of the family’s funds or absconding for another person.” She says the mayor’s much-celebrated ruse was the “ultimate power play.”
“It represented what a person who has a sense of limits may fantasize about but not put into action,” she says, adding: “Clearly it touches a place that many people imagine and wish that they could go to with their ex.”
But while pranks can bring temporary euphoria to the mischievous spouse, they can also have dire consequences for litigation and spousal support.
“All these things typically backfire. They’ll look very bad to a judge,” says Mr. Grant, who urges his clients to take the high road.
Ms. Mecklinger agrees, saying: “When somebody ups the ante, get out of the ring.”
So which is the more vindictive of the sexes? None of the experts wants to say.
“I don’t think anybody has the monopoly on that,” Mr. Niman offers. “The saying ‘hell hath no fury like a woman scorned’ is probably no longer accurate. It’s hell hath no fury like a spouse scorned.”
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