Politics & Government

Judge OKs Sanfords' divorce

Jenny Sanford waits as Family Court Judge Jocelyn Cate reads through the property and custody documents during the final hearing for her divorce from South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford in the Charleston County Judicial Center on Friday February 26, 2010.
Jenny Sanford waits as Family Court Judge Jocelyn Cate reads through the property and custody documents during the final hearing for her divorce from South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford in the Charleston County Judicial Center on Friday February 26, 2010.

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Raw video: Sanford divorce hearing in Charleston

Courtesy of WCBD TV in Charleston

A Charleston family court judge ruled Friday that Gov. Mark Sanford's admitted affair with an Argentine woman is grounds for his wife, Jenny, to divorce him.

Sanford is the first South Carolina governor to divorce while in office. Because the case involves adultery, the divorce will not be final until Judge Jocelyn Cate signs the decree after a waiting period, likely in mid-March. Except for legal issues related to the children, the decision and settlement cannot be appealed.

Jenny Sanford said she plans to remain at the former couple's Sullivan's Island home with their four sons. Gov. Sanford did not attend the hearing.

"The dissolution of a 20-year marriage is not a cause for celebration, it's a sad occasion," Jenny Sanford said afterward.

Wearing a black button-down dress and a scarf, Jenny Sanford spoke briefly to the media after the hearing. She said her main goal now is to instill character in her children, as she will now raise them as a single mother.

"This is the beginning of a new chapter for me and for our children."

The hearing wrapped up months of public scrutiny of the Sanfords after Mark Sanford, disappeared for five days in June. He later admitted an extramarital affair, and he called his lover his "soul mate" in an Associated Press interview, a feeling confirmed through e-mails between the lovers obtained by The State.

The couple filed an agreement to resolve property and custody issues, but requested those records be sealed. As of right now, the entire file is sealed until the judge makes a ruling.

"There is a wealth of information the children are not aware of," Jenny Sanford said in court about sealing the agreement. Releasing the details would serve no public purpose, she said, and would "cause further damage to my children.

"Notwithstanding the fact that I wrote a book, I didn't write anything in that book that my children weren't already aware of," Jenny Sanford said. "More information for the kids at school to talk about is not necessarily what we need at this point."

The judge said she would rule on that request later, noting she would balance Jenny Sanford's concerns with the public's right to open records.

Cate ran through a series of questions to establish Jenny Sanford's residency, how she discovered the affair in January 2009 in a letter her husband wrote to his lover, and how she repeatedly told him to end the relationship and no longer see the woman.

Jenny Sanford did not ask the judge to resume use of her maiden name, Sullivan. The entire hearing took just under 23 minutes.

"I have done my best to try and keep this endeavor from becoming public, but it did become public," Jenny Sanford said in court.

Gov. Sanford's office released a statement Friday, the same as the one he released in December when news of his wife's divorce filing became public.

"While it is not the course I would have hoped for, or would choose, I want to take full responsibility for the moral failure that led us to this tragic point," he said in his statement. "Jenny is a great person, and has been a remarkable wife, mother and first lady.

"I will join with her in asking the press to respect our shared desire for privacy as we quietly move forward. We respectively ask for your prayers."

Divorces are not unusual for governors, though Sanford is the state's first sitting governor to get one since South Carolina legalized divorce in 1949. Former governor and U.S. Sen. Fritz Hollings divorced after leaving the governor's office.

Former Maryland Gov. Parris Glendening divorced his wife, Frances, in 2001 and married a deputy chief of staff the following year.

Sanford still could be subjected to a criminal investigation by Attorney General Henry McMaster, whose office is evaluating evidence. Sanford is also awaiting a State Ethics Commission hearing on 37 charges he broke state ethics laws, carrying a possible $74,000 fine.

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