It took me over two years to finish reading Until the Twelfth of Never by Bella Stumbo, and not because the book is bad or boring in any way. It took me that long because I was so emotionally gripped by this dense work of non-fiction, it just became too much for me to bear. When I first started it, I found myself (wrongly) transferring the Betty Broderick story to a very similar divorce situation in my family and feeling deeply for Betty. While the Broderick case does have it’s eerie parallels to that divorce, it’s not my divorce so it’s not really my business. Now, after such a protracted, messy split, I feel pity for neither characters involved, except for the children.
Reflections Upon Divorce
It’s always the children who suffer most in divorces. Sure there are kids who are better off with a more stable environment that post-divorce parenthood might provide, but divorce affects every child in a deep and meaningful way. In the case of the Broderick children, their parents used them as weapons in a viciously cruel duel that led to murder.
Like so many kids of my generation, I’m a child of divorce, and it’s shaped the way I look at the institution of marriage. To be blunt, marriage is an all or nothing with me: either never or forever. As someone who cherishes her personal space and privacy, I can completely understand why permanent life partnership to one person is not many folks’ cup of tea. It’s not a fairy tale and it can be very unglamorous and tedious.
On the other hand, I don’t view matrimony as merely a romantic union of two supposed soul mates. Despite being a romance reader, I don’t consider marriage as the ultimate end game of every love story. Marriage is a financial/legal/social/religious/familial union that bonds two people together as one for life. It’s no joke. Especially when kids are involved. Add adultery into the mix… and well you’ve got the chaotic situation with wounded adults who lash out each other and only end up hurting their children most of all.
While divorce rates have lowered, they are still common in the US, with 30-40% of 1st marriages ending in divorce, and at a much higher rate for subsequent marriages. The actual reasons for divorce vary, but depending on the state, most are filed as no-fault divorces, for reasons such as irreconcilable differences. In her book, Stumbo laments how no-fault divorce hurt Betty’s mental and legal well-being. At that time many feminists bemoaned how that legal notion could harm women—namely cheating husbands filing for divorce from innocent wives and leaving them with nothing. Ironically, today it’s mostly men who decry the perils of no-fault divorce as more women file for divorce than men. From what I’ve seen of the divorced couples I know, people break up for every reason imaginable, although it is the women who file most of the time.
The Book – Until the Twelfth of Never: The Deadly Divorce of Dan and Betty Broderick
Stumbo’s well-documented writing spares no detail. All the players are portrayed fairly, yet with brutal and blunt honesty. Betty Broderick, self-proclaimed super-mom and super-wife was married to super-lawyer Dan Broderick for 16 years when he left her for his much younger secretary, Linda Kolkena. Their divorce stretched out for years, with each person doing their unholy best to make the other’s life miserable. Betty was violent, foul-mouthed and cruel to their children. As President of The San Diego Bar Association, Dan knew every legal trick in the book to torment his wife and prevent her from getting an equitable share of their marital assets. And he, too, was cruel to his children, using his money as a cudgel to control them, going as far as writing one of his daughters out his will when she wouldn’t follow his rules.
When the Broderick divorce was finalized, on paper Betty had a decent settlement, but due to her husband’s knowledge of the courts, Betty ended up owing Dan money through Epstein credits and the multiple fines she incurred for being recorded cursing at Dan and Linda. She had to sell her home, while Dan lived in a renovated million-dollar mansion with his new bride.
I’m not going to rehash the entire story here, as a quick internet or YouTube search can supply all the sordid facts that are readily available. Suffice it to say, that what may have started with one spouse being the bigger jerk in the situation, ended up with two people turning into veritable demons in their hatred of one another.
1) Betty was four pennies short of a nickel. She was diagnosed with Borderline Personality disorder, but beyond that, Betty had no clue what right vs. wrong was. Does that mean I think Betty shouldn’t have spent a single night in jail for the murders? No. Were I a juror on her trial, knowing what I know now, I would have convicted her of Voluntary Manslaughter, which would have given her a 15-to-30-year sentence rather than 30-to-life she received. To this day, she has not apologized for the murders per se, but she has expressed remorse for the harm that it did to her children. Having read Stumbo’s book, I can say that’s the most self-awareness Betty seems capable of; her hatred of Dan and Linda was all-consuming and made her wholly self-centered.
2) Dan Broderick was a vindictive, psychopathic narcissist who did everything in his power to drive his crazy wife over the edge. Linda Kolkena was not some blameless, young bystander, as she also had her part in driving Betty to higher levels of insanity by sending her ads for wrinkle creams and weight loss programs. But does that mean they deserved to be shot to death as they slept in their bed? Of course not. Life does not always mete out karmic punishments in a fair manner. If life was fair, a reasonable-minded judge would have seen precisely the game Dan Broderick was playing and put a stop to it. But the billion-dollar divorce industry that is fueled by angry applicants, along with judges, lawyers, psychologists, social workers, pundits, activists et al., is not always a place to look for equality or justice.
So Betty Broderick took out her own form of justice, which, unfortunately, destroyed the possibility of this broken family ever finding true peace. Betty has been denied parole twice and most likely will die in prison. Dan and Linda never got the chance to see if their life together as a married couple would thrive. And the four Broderick children never got a chance to live ordinary lives, doing the normal things children of divorce do, like debating whether to go to Mom’s for Thanksgiving or Dad’s for Christmas, because Dad is dead and Mom is in prison for his murder.