Witherspoon Bigamy Case Developments

As previously blogged about here on the Iowa Family Law Bulletin, actress Reese Witherspoon’s mother, Betty Witherspoon, has petitioned a Tennessee court to annul a marriage between her husband of 42 years and his new wife, Tricianne Taylor.  Betty and John Witherspoon separated in the mid 1990′s, however, have remained in contact with one another, even attending family events together.  They are not divorced.

Family Concerns for John Witherspoon

Betty and the Witherspoon children, including Reese Witherspoon, appear to be very concerned with John’s mental state claiming that he suffers from dementia and alcoholism.  They claim that Witherspoon’s new wife is taking advantage of him by applying for loans and apparently making changes to his will.  John reportedly told Betty that he did not remember marrying Tricianne.  John Witherspoon is in a conservatorship, but apparently, this has not prevented Tricianne Taylor from allegedly becoming a part of John’s financial life.  Tricianne strongly denies the accusations made against her.

Judge Appoints Lawyer to Conduct Investigation

A new development  occurred in the case when a Tennessee judge appointed a lawyer to investigate the events in John’s life that Betty and the rest of the Witherspoon family are alleging.  The hearing scheduled for later this week has been indefinitely postponed.

Media Petitions Court for Access

Reese has been attending court hearings with her father, however, the judge in the case has barred all media presence in the courtroom.  However, a local television station has petitioned the court to unseal the filings in the case and make all future filings and hearings accessible by the media.  This motion has been set for hearing on June 25, 2012.


Reese Witherspoon’s Mother Files Petition to Annul Alleged Bigamous Marriage of her Husband

On May 8th, Actress Reese Witherspoon’s mother, Mary Elizabeth Witherspoon, filed a petition for annulment in a Nashville, TN Court.  According to the Washington Post , Witherspoon alleges that she is still married to her husband, John Witherspoon, and that he has married another woman, Tricianne Taylor, who may be taking advantage of him.

Betty, as Mary Elizabeth is known, is also alleging that John has had quite a few personal problems such as alcoholism and some professional misfortune that has led him to be vulnerable to Ms. Taylor.  Betty also believes John may be experiencing dementia.  Ms. Taylor has had John sign a new will, and is attempting to take out bank loans under the name Tricianne Witherspoon.

When confronted by Betty about his January 2012 nuptials, John claims to not remember marrying Tricianne.  Although Betty and John have been separated since 1996, neither has filed for dissolution of their marriage, according to Betty.  Betty does not desire a divorce at this time.

She is, in addition to petitioning the court for an annulment of the marriage between John and Tricianne, asking the court to order Tricianne to return all assets and move out of residences owned by the family.  A hearing has been set for May 31st, 2012 in Davidson County Circuit Court in Tennessee.

Bigamy in Iowa

Iowa Code Section 726.1 lists Bigamy as a serious misdemeanor.  According to the statute, any person with a living husband or wife who marries another commits the crime of Bigamy.  There are several defenses to Bigamy however, including, if the first marriage was terminated or the person reasonably believes the first marriage was terminated, the person reasonably believes their first spouse is dead, or if for 3 years, there has been no evidence that their spouse is alive.


U.S. Census Bureau Studies Economic Well-Being of Children and Their Absent Fathers

Divorce and Its’ Effect on Children

Divorce, separation, and other family law problems can wreak havoc on the family unit. Just by virtue of the event taking place – the separation of a set of parents, the children of the relationship can be expected to go through moderate changes at the very least. Unfortunately, in many cases, children endure much worse than moderate changes. They not only experience emotional upheaval but more tangible changes in their lives such as a different living arrangement and different, usually less, parental interaction than when their parents were together. The result of these changes often means that there is a lower income to support the children, thus lowering the standard of living for children whose parents are divorced or living apart.

U.S. Census Bureau Study Focusing on Economic Well-Being of Children and Their Absent Fathers

Difficulty in Studying Absent Fathers

                In the early 1990’s, the U.S. Census Bureau released a study , that has since become widely-read, on the economic well-being of children who have experienced a divorce or separation of their parents.  As the paper describes, there are not many studies on this topic available because of the difficulty in acquiring data on absent fathers. One explanation for this difficulty is that many men, after they divorce or separate, if they are the non-custodial parent, change residences – much more often than women, or the custodial parent in the relationship, do.

Studying the Post-Separation Income of Fathers

This U.S. Census Bureau Study examined the post-separation income of fathers and the relative well-being of absent fathers and their children. The researchers interviewed the children and parents selected for a period of 32 months in four month intervals. Families from across the United States were studied, with children being restricted to those under the age of 15 and present in the household of one of their parents.

Changes in the Economic Well-Being of the Household after the Departure of the Father

The study found very troubling changes in the economic well-being of the children’s household after the departure of the father.  Directly after the disruption in the family, .statistics show that the income level drops by 37% and the percentage of households living in poverty doubles.

The study also shows differences between the families where they were able to track and follow up with fathers after they left the family versus families where they were unable to follow up with the father.  Children with fathers who were able to be tracked and re-interviewed lived at income levels that are 20 to 40% higher than those of children whose fathers are unable to be tracked.  Also, the percentage of children living in poverty is more than twice as high for fathers who can’t be tracked after the family disruption than fathers who can be.  This suggests that families with lower incomes before a divorce or separation are more likely to have an absent father after.

Also, as expected, fathers who are unable to be tracked are less likely to pay child support after they leave the family household. Even for fathers who do pay child support, the study shows that they are living farther above the poverty line and enjoying a more comfortable economic well-being than their children.

Would this Study Look the Same Today?

Of course, since this study has not been recreated, there is no way to know what the economic well-being of children of divorced or separated homes and their absent fathers look like.  Unfortunately, the percentage of children experiencing a family disruption such as a divorce or separation of their parents is higher now than in the early 1990s and is rising.  In 1990, 24% of all households with children were single parent households.  In 2008, the percentage increased to 29.5%.

With this many relationships ending in divorce or separation, it is of the utmost importance to consider the children of the relationship first when the family disruption occurs.