Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Betty Broderick: Divorce... Desperation...Death

A Shell of her Former Self

Betty at age 43
Betty at age 43

By 1988, not a vestige of the once-proud and caring Betty remained. Her mind frayed, she let everything else go haywire. "It was (now) a radically changed Betty Broderick abroad in the streets of La Jolla," explains Bella Stumbo. "All personal vanity was gone, buried beneath layers of fat. Her language was now so routinely crude, even in polite gatherings, that old friends...lectured her about her foul mouth...By then she was pacing the floors of her house all night...Her mind gave her no rest; the late-night demons besetting her were relentless, vicious, and growing even larger."

By the time her divorce trial finally came to court in January, 1989, she had dismissed all legal aide and decided to represent herself. Needless to say, it was a mistake. Dan and his team of lawyers bounced on her. The eight-day trial resembled a massacre. "It was lamb to the slaughter from the git-go," asserts Stumbo.

At issue were child custody, cash advances paid to Betty by Dan over the four years of separation, property and alimony. Betty sought custody of the three children who were yet under the age of eighteen, plus $25,000 per month for 10 years (a small sum considering Dan was a millionaire several times over), as well as a $1 million tax-free up-front payment.

In terms of custody, two mental health experts who had studied the case over the last several months were brought forth for recommendation. Their opinions differed. Dr. William Dess believed that Dan should be given full custody of the children, as he diagnosed Betty as unstable, suffering emotional problems that required therapy. On the other hand, Dr. Gerald Nelson felt that Betty would provide excellent parenthood once the trauma of divorce had ended. Both physicians did agree, however, that the Broderick situation had been a remarkably negative one, prone to immaturity, dishonesty and even violence.

On the financial side, it was doom for Betty from the start. By the time the trial came to the boards, she discovered that, because of something called Epstein credits, her share of community property had been substantially reduced. Epstein credits, according to the Lexxicon web site report on Betty, are "a provision under California divorce law which says that the supporting spouse (in this case Dan) may charge the dependent spouse (Betty) for one-half of all community debts accumulated not from the date of divorce, but from the date of separation. If there is a substantial amount of time (in the interim), a dependent spouse may actually accumulate enough Epstein credits to effectively cancel out any share of the community property which might have been forthcoming had the divorce been finalized immediately after separation."

But, in the case of the Brodericks, legal maneuverings and delays postponed a divorce trial incident after incident. Judge William Howatt, therefore, "accepted all of Dan's proposed numbers and ruled that Betty owed him $750,000 in Epsteins and cash advances, all accrued between the time Dan moved out and the date the divorce was final (January 30, 1989)," reads Lexxicon. "In the end, Dan Broderick, multi-millionaire, was ordered to pay his wife of 20 years less than $30,000 in cash.

"In addition, Dan was awarded custody."

Three months later, Dan and Linda announced their engagement. And Betty began a whole new barrage of telephone epithets.

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