McGreevey divorce reveals court’s approach to high-conflict cases

At some point, anyone married to a sociopath is—or should be—headed for divorce. Once the legal proceedings start, they will be brutal, bloody and expensive.

The New Jersey Superior Court just released the verdict in the divorce of James E. McGreevey, former governor, and his wife, Dina Matos McGreevey. You may remember this case. On August 12, 2004, Governor James McGreevey held a press conference and announced to the world that he was a “gay American,” and he would resign from office because of an alleged affair with a male aide. He hadn’t bothered to tell his wife about his sexual orientation until about three days before the press conference. At his insistence, Matos stood beside him as McGreevey made his announcement on. She looked totally dazed.

In my opinion, McGreevey isn’t gay, he’s a sociopath, which I wrote in Book Review: Silent Partner, by the wife of former New Jersey Governor James McGreevey. So the couple’s divorce was just like what many of us have experienced, except that it played out on national TV.

Dina Matos was deceived, outraged and humiliated. She wanted her husband to pay for what he had done and how badly he had treated her.

James McGreevey had moved on—his view was obviously, get over it already. He had a wealthy new lover. He did his best to appear poor so he wouldn’t have to pay.

Matos asked for $2,500 per month alimony for four years, $1,750 per month in child support, and attorney’s fees. McGreevey wanted to pay no alimony and about $100 per month in child support.

They would not settle. So it was left Superior Court Judge Karen Cassidy to decide for them.

Splitting the money

The court released Judge Cassidy’s decision on August 8, 2008. She wrote a 44-page opinion, which is posted on New Jersey Courts Online. I recommend that anyone going into court with a sociopath read it.

After a year of bitter litigation, James McGreevey and Dina Matos did come to terms on child custody for their daughter. All that remained for the court to decide was the money. The issues were:

  1. Celebrity goodwill—was James McGreevey a celebrity, and did Matos have a right to any money he made because of it?
  2. Should the couple’s brief tenure as governor and first lady of New Jersey, living in the governor’s mansion with plenty of perks, be considered in a determination of their marital lifestyle?
  3. Should McGreevey’s behavior—deciding he was gay and then claiming the Matos knew it—be considered in an alimony decision?
  4. Should standard child support guidelines be applied, under which McGreevey would owe hardly any, or did he have the financial resources to pay more?

McGreeveys have an agenda

In most divorce cases, courts take the position that both parties bear some of the blame for the dissolution of the marriage, and the point of the divorce trial is to distribute what’s left. The courts want both parties to play fair.

According to Judge Cassidy, the McGreeveys didn’t do that. She wrote:

It was apparent to this court that both parties took widely divergent positions and were unwilling to compromise despite significant efforts by the court system to have them resolve their matter out of the spotlight, by utilization of mediation and settlement conferences. Their positions were polarized and as the court will find in detail later, were somewhat disingenuous and unsubstantiated. As was expressed to the parties on numerous occasions, their ability to work together and fashion a financial settlement was clearly in their best interest. No one in a matrimonial case ever wins. Although the posturing in this case suggests that both parties were confident that they would prevail on most, if not all of their issues, rarely is that the case. Especially, in a matter as high profile as this, the court was disappointed that much of the testimony, particularly as it related to public figures within the State of New Jersey, and the dirty laundry associated therewith, needed to be aired in public and in the press. As will become apparent, there are no “winners” in a litigation of this type.

This court has an obligation to consider the evidence presented and the law and statutory factors in rendering a decision. The decision must be objective, fair, reasonable and not be influenced by the hyperbole displayed throughout this case. The issues here were plain and simple; a couple was married, certain events occurred within their relationship that resulted in their separation and ultimate decision to file for divorce. As a result of the demise of the marriage, fair and impartial determinations must be made in terms of support and the distribution of their property. Despite the unique circumstances in this case, this court must still use this analysis in rendering its opinion and making the necessary decisions.

The McGreeveys clearly had agendas. As previously addressed, their anger seemed to override any ability to testify credibly or to be reasonable. For example, Mr. McGreevey’s steadfast position that he was somehow unable to obtain employment contradicted directly with his position that he was actively attending seminary and pursuing a full-time program. Clearly, he cannot do both, but he somehow could not simply say that, instead contradicting himself over and over again. When faced with facts that he could not even support himself on his current salary, let alone both his daughters and possibly his wife, he was unable to provide a cogent explanation. Mrs. McGreevey’s demeanor in the courtroom and her position of an entitlement to an extremely generous standard of living reflected her anger and disappointment as to the end of her marriage. Her testimony was designed to generate a greater amount of support based upon circumstances that ended her marriage. The factors she suggested are not supported by the law and evidence.


The McGreeveys had only been married for four years and five months. This is considered a short-term marriage. For two years and seven months, they lived in the New Jersey governor’s mansion, with cooks, landscapers, security guards and other staff.

Dina Matos argued that the amount of the alimony she received should reflect the lifestyle she enjoyed while first lady, when she spent all of her discretionary income on clothes. She also argued that McGreevey was at fault in ending their marital lifestyle because he had an extramarital affair and left office early.

The judge rejected these arguments. Cassidy wrote that life in the governor’s mansion was “inherently temporary.” She also wrote that many marriages ended because of affairs McGreevey’s did not “rise to the level of egregious conduct” according to legal standards. Matos was awarded no alimony.

Child support

In deciding the amount of child support James McGreevey should pay, the court looked at the earning capacity and financial resources of both parties. Dina Matos, until recently, had been working at a hospital foundation, earning $82,000 per year. James McGreevey earned $157,000 in 2004, $166,000 in 2005, $428,833 in 2006 (with the publication of his book), and $185,000 in 2007. Then he decided he wanted to become an Episcopal priest and quit working full-time to attend a seminary. So now he earns $48,000 a year. The court determined that McGreevey was “under employed” and imputed $175,000 in income to him.

Both McGreevey and Matos wrote tell-all books. McGreevey received a $250,000 advance for The Confession, and Matos received a $275,000 advance for Silent Partner. Both spent all their money, primarily litigating the divorce.

Still, McGreevey is living the good life because of his wealthy partner, Mark O’Donnell. O’Donnell has a 17-room mansion, where McGreevey is supposed to be paying rent, but doesn’t. O’Donnell pays McGreevey’s attorney’s fees and funds lavish birthday parties for his daughter. Because of O’Donnell’s financial support, the court found cause to increase the amount of child support McGreevey was required to pay.

The court ordered McGreevey to pay $1,075 per month in child support, plus 100 percent of the girl’s medical insurance and extracurricular activities.

Equitable distribution

Finally, there was the issue of equitable distribution of assets, including McGreevey’s possible “celebrity goodwill.” The couple didn’t have many assets, but McGreevey did sell his condo while married to Matos, which he “forgot” to tell her about. So he had some cash, which he claimed to be pre-marital. McGreevey also claimed he should be compensated for his wife’s expenditures on jewelry and clothing. The judge, however, pointed out that he provided no evidence for any of these claims.

Dina Matos said she was entitled to “an equitable share of the celebrity goodwill enjoyed by plaintiff due to his circumstances as Governor and recognizable persona.” As an expert witness, she brought in Kalman Barson, a forensic accountant. Barson valued this goodwill at $1,456,000. How did he arrive at this figure? He guessed. The judge wrote, “Mr. Barson’s report was not factually based and filled with assumptions that were never verified.”

In the end, Matos got nothing for goodwill, and nothing for McGreevey’s book. But she did get nearly $110,000 in equitable distribution of the cash.

Both parties also asked for attorney’s fees. McGreevey’s fees added up to $498,000; Matos’ were $526,689. The judge awarded no attorney’s fees. They both had to pay their own lawyers.

Marriage fraud

Dina Matos has also filed a marriage fraud claim against McGreevey. According to the Associated Press, “Matos McGreevey claims she was duped into marrying a gay man who sought the cover of a wife to hide his homosexuality and further his political ambitions.”

McGreevey, in the meantime, said that Matos knew she was gay, because she participated in threesomes with him and a male aide. Matos denied the allegations.

In my opinion, the threesome story is probably a fabrication, and McGreevey did dupe Matos into marriage. But on March 20, 2008, Judge Cassidy dismissed Matos’ claim of emotional distress, ruling that McGreevey didn’t plan to torment his wife while they were married. The judge permitted the marriage fraud claim to continue, but stated, “that does not guarantee the defendant (Matos) will be successful in trying her claim.”

The marriage fraud claim is still open, but it is not known if Matos will pursue it further. Unfortunately, she probably damaged her chances for success by asking for too much financial compensation in the divorce. According to

“Matos said during the trial that she could no longer afford to shop at Nordstrom, Neiman Marcus and Talbots and now had to shop at the Children’s Place, the Gap and T.J. Maxx. The judge was unmoved by that testimony, saying Matos brought her economic distress on herself.”

Lessons from the case

So what are the lessons in this case for us? What do we need to know if we’re in divorce court with a sociopath?

The court views divorce cases from the perspective that it takes two to fight. Now, we all know that in marriage with the sociopath, the disordered person is causing the vast majority of the problems. However, we have to be able to prove it. That’s why documentation and evidence are so important.

When it comes to settling the financial issues, judges expect to decide somewhere in the middle between what both parties ask for. In this case, it seemed like both parties asked for extremes, hoping to get a lot. But even when the news first came out that Dina Matos wanted to be compensated as if she still lived in the governor’s mansion, I thought she was nuts. That lifestyle was financed by the taxpayers of New Jersey, not her husband. It was an unreasonable demand, as the judge decided.

So why did Matos’ attorney, John Post, make such an outrageous claim? And why were her expert witnesses unprepared for the trial? To me it seemed that Matos’ attorney did a lousy job. The lesson here is to really research the attorney you hire. If you get bad advice and bad representation, you’re sunk.

McGreevey’s attorney, Stephen Haller, (the last one McGreevey had three lawyers) said the ex-governor offered his wife a settlement of between $250,000 and $300,000 before filing for divorce. Matos turned it down. In the end, she got far less.

My divorce from a sociopath

I can understand not wanting to accept the sociopath’s offer. I also turned down the settlement offered by my husband, James Montgomery, which was bogus he’d give me worthless assets, plus all the debts. I took him to court, spent about $35,000 on legal fees, and got a judgment against him of $1,253,287 which I was never able to collect. Then, heavily in debt, I had to declare bankruptcy.

But I did win my claim for marriage fraud. I had evidence. I had four other victims of my ex-husband testify on my behalf. My husband stopped participating in the litigation, so that helped. But I think I would have won anyway.

The point here is that you cannot expect a judge to understand what it means to be married to a sociopath. Therefore, your claims must make sense to someone who thinks yours is just another normal divorce case. If your claims seem unbelievable even though we all know they’re true you must have evidence. To prove your claims, you need airtight documentation.

As I said in the beginning of this article, I recommend that anyone going into divorce court with a sociopath read Judge Karen Cassidy’s opinion. It’s well written, and even if you have no legal training, you can follow the legal arguments. It will give you a good idea of what to expect, and forewarned is forearmed.

Note: In this article, I discussed divorce, not child custody. Child custody issues with a sociopath are totally different. For information, see 10 strategies for child custody battles with sociopaths.

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Ox Drover

Dear CellStemCell,

I agree with your assessment about MOST “celebrity” marriage, say where the “pool boy” marries Angelina Jolie and after a couple or three years she kicks him to the curb, I don’t think he is entitled to a dime.

However, if a heterosexual marriage and a child is almost a “prerequisite” for your job of governor, and you marry some woman to provide a “mask” so that you CAN BE governor, then it is a bit of a “horse of a different color.”

This guy USED HIS WIFE as a “cover up” of his homosexuality. He KNEW he was gay when he married her. He betrayed this woman’s confidence and her love for him.

She was angry,, hurt, humiliated by this being USED for a cover up by him, with HIM KNOWING what he was doing. Almost the ONLY way she could “hurt” him back was monetary. I don’t approve of her attempt at ‘Vengeance” but I do SEE WHY she would do it. Why she would attempt to hurt him for hurting her. I know for myself, since I never got any spousal support, only a small amount of child support, after my divorce and because of my father-in-law’s manipulation (he was a P and my x was mentally ill) I only got about 10% of our JOINT ASSETS, I came out on the short end of the stick. But then, I wasn’t out to hurt my X. He hadn’t “betrayed me viciously” where this man DID viciously betray his X wife.

Believe me, during my worst period of anger and vengeful feelings, I could have put bamboo splinters under the P’s finger nails and lit them on fire! I think many of us have lain awake nights thinking of ways to make them suffer for what they did to us. Thought of revenge and mayhem. I don’t think those thoughts are GOOD FOR US, but I do think they are normal and natural. I think those thoughts are what she is having now.

I hope for her sake that she can heal and let go and get rid of the terrible anger and wrath that she feels. But, I do feel that her anger and sense of betrayal is fueling her attempts at monetary revenge against her X.


I don’t presume to call what she did vengeance because I don’t know all the circumstances, not that she’s not entitled. But look instead at how her life changed before marriage to after, all because of being dragged into a scam for a liar and user’s benefit. What did she start with compared to where she ended up. What did all that cost her? Obviously, there were many changes in her life because of the fradulent marriage including a life with a new child. Did she have a home, career, etc. that she gave up for the marriage?

Fraud is fraud and should be considered even though it was within a marriage. I think it should be recognized and instead of recompense according to marriage statutes, I think the court should have been led to consider fraud statutes instead. Don’t know if that is possible or if there was proof, but I think her lawyer was an expensive idiot in any case.


Ox Drover

I definitely believe her lawyer was expensive, and most likely took her for a financial “ride.” Sometimes lawyers keep the “chit stirred” because then they can get more hourly fees. Keep egging the client on to believing that they can get “justice” or money or whatever they are after. Personally that kind of hourly rate I think is psychopathic! and the “high cost” of justice today is fueled by greedy lawyers such that unless you have wealth you can’t get justice in court. Even then, not always.

The whole thing is a terrible mess for this woman, and her child as well.


takingmeback-I don’t understand the difference between a psychotic disorder and a personality disorder. Based on my observation, I personally think my exsociopath was totally nuts. But I keep reading that they are not crazy.

Oxd-really interesting story about Sir Laurens. I think we can all relate that we, at one time, found our sociopaths really interesting. I even found that my exsociopath was really good at some things. And really stupid in other areas. Like a savant.

Ox Drover

Dear Bird,

Simply put, a psychotic person is “out of touch with reality” they may hear voices that command them to do things or see things that no one else sees, or get some idea like space aliens abducted them and they have to wear a collander on their head to keep the aliens from reading their thoughts. That is what is referred to as “crazy.” They may actually NOT know right from wrong.

Basically a person with a personality disorder has a PATTERN of behaviors, and though they KNOW RIGHT FROM WRONG, they consistently chose to do things that are harmful to others without ANY SENSE OF REMORSE.

Of course there is a “scale” of each of these things from “low” to “high” behavior patterns on each thing. A psychtic person has a mental “Illness” that can most of the time be managed with medication, but a person with a personality disorder does not have what we currently call a mental “illness” but a pattern of behavior that they COULD control, but that they do not CHOOSE TO CONTROL. There is no medication or therapy that can help them. They don’t want to be helped. They are right and the whole world is wrong.

Yea, you could say “that’s crazy” and in a way in the usual way folks call someone “crazy” when they do something pretty stupid, that’s true, but “crazy” isn’t really a technical term.

The psychopaths do things that don’t ‘MAKE SENSE” to us, but they do to them, but that doesn’t mean they are psychotic or delusional, it simply means that their brain doesn’t work just like ours does and the things that WE would think was a reward they don’t, and the things that we would view as a punishment don’t effect them like it would us.

I hope that makes sense to you, if not, maybe Dr. Leedom can explain it more fully. (((hugs)))) Give my Baby Birdie a squeeze from Aunty Oxy!


Right on Birdie.. I think this is why they changed the name from psychopath to sociopath.. they are without a sense of society, they are definitely working against society, and tear at it’s fabric just the way people who are “pro species” as you put it, hold up society.

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