Skip to comments.BUSH DIVORCE: SPLITTING IN THE SPOTLIGHT (MISLEADING HEADLINE: THIS IS ABOUT NEIL BUSH)
Posted on 07/27/2003 10:22:04 PM PDT by Recourse
July 27, 2003, 9:32PM
Bush divorce: splitting in the spotlight By CLAUDIA FELDMAN Copyright 2003 Houston Chronicle
They met in New Hampshire, where presidential battles start taking shape.
He was a businessman and dutiful son, campaigning for his dad. She was a few years older and divorced, selling real estate to bolster her modest teacher's salary.
A friend wanted to play matchmaker.
"I'm not interested in politicians or political families," she replied.
Sharon Bush says now that she was right to be wary. But in 1979, when she walked into her friend's kitchen, there he was, Neil Bush, soon to be the son of the 41st president of the United States and later the brother of the 43rd.
They fell in love.
Before Neil returned to the campaign trail, he asked her for a wedding band, Sharon says. "He told me, `I'm going to be campaigning in 35 states. I want it so other women won't try to pick me up.' "
"I trusted him."
No more. And after 23 years of marriage and three children, Neil doesn't trust her, either.
Divorce is usually a nasty business. It's sitting around a table, dividing debts and assets. It's splitting cars, houses and children's holidays and birthdays. It's who gets the dog, the ratty furniture in the garage, the frequent flyer miles.
In most cases, those bitter fights take place in relative privacy. Those who live in the limelight don't hurt worse than regular folks, but certainly they're more exposed.
Type in the three words, "neil," "bush" and "divorce" on www.google.com and dozens of references pop up. Just a few of the news outlets that have weighed in on the split include CBS News, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Associated Press, The Telegraph in Calcutta, India.
Some of the stories have been unkind. That's partly because the couple's behavior has been less than stellar -- using their own family values as a measure -- and partly because members of America's first family are considered public figures and fair game.
It's live by the sword, die by the sword kind of stuff. Neil Bush is related to two of the most powerful men in the world -- three for those who believe brother Jeb, Florida's governor, has a good shot at the presidency in 2008.
Neil and Sharon Bush have had a front-row seat to history in the making, and they've enjoyed years of perks and benefits. A very public divorce, however, is the downside of reflected fame.
Sharon says there is pressure from the Bush family to clean up the loose ends of the divorce, smooth things over and move on. "With an election year coming up," she says, "they should be concerned about the publicity."
Bad for the children Worst of all, the negative attention is bad for the children -- Lauren, the 19-year-old model and Princeton University student; Pierce, 17; and Ashley, 14. Like all kids, they wish they could protect their parents from hurt and embarrassment. They wish, their mom says, they could return to happier times.
Some aspects of the divorce, finalized in the 309th Family District Court in April, are straight out of bad afternoon TV. Months after the split is supposed to be over and done -- stick a fork in it -- there's lingering talk of voodoo, extortion, illegitimate babies and telephoned threats.
Though it seems too silly to mention it against that intriguing backdrop, there's also the problem of the house.
Neil wants to sell it. His parents have offered to help Sharon and the kids resettle in a smaller but still gracious home. The senior Bushes are willing to pay $450,000 to $500,000, and by most standards, that buys a lot of house.
The problem is Sharon would have to move out after the youngest goes to college in four years, and to Sharon, that's infuriating.
"What am I?" she asks. "The hired nanny?"
She wants to stay in the Memorial-area home they've enjoyed for 10 years, and she says she wants to buy Neil out.
That's fine, says Richard Flowers Jr., Neil's attorney, just put the minimum selling price -- $850,000 -- in an escrow account. Both need the profits from the house to pay off debts and settle up. She is supposed to get 75 percent of whatever is left.
She did put money in an escrow account, she and her attorney, Walter Mahoney say. When asked how much, they say, "enough to buy the house."
Says Flowers, "To date, she's shown me nothing."
Neil says nothing about his divorce publicly except that he won't comment. He has said he's trying to take the high road for the sake of the kids. Also, he was the Bush brother involved in the Denver-based Silverado Banking, Savings & Loan Association debacle in the '80s, and he may have decided long ago that the less said the better.
In 1991, he was one of 12 defendants, mostly former directors of Silverado, who agreed to pay $49.5 million to settle a $200 million negligence lawsuit brought by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.
Although Neil denied any wrongdoing, the federal government barred him from further participation in the savings and loan business. Government officials estimated Silverado's collapse cost taxpayers more than $1 billion.
These days, Neil is working in Austin as CEO of Ignite Inc., an education software firm, and making many trips back and forth to Houston. If high-profile divorces also are public-relations wars, Neil probably is winning. He is charming, frat-boy handsome, and he has the confidence that comes with his upbringing and connections.
While Neil isn't talking, his friends are.
Publicist Rex John, who is close to the children and is Lauren's godfather, says Sharon agitates about the divorce because she can't bear to give up the money, the access, the reflected glory that comes with the Bush name.
The other day John Spalding, an attorney and friend of Neil, called the Chronicle and said, among other things: Sharon wanted $20 million from the Bush family or threatened to write a tell-all book, she tried to put a voodoo curse on Neil, she rifled through the things in his new apartment and took his toothbrush, and she actually went up to Neil and pulled some hair out of his head.
Those charges are ridiculous, Sharon says.
She did ask Neil for $20 million when she believed his company was worth $40 million, but, she says, "I just wanted my half. I'm not a gold digger, and I am ready to move on."
Also, one day she did pull out some of her ex's hair and also scooped up some of his hair clippings after a haircut at a local salon.
His behavior was so erratic, she says, she thought he was on drugs. Tests on those collected hairs were inconclusive, she says.
No way is he using illegal drugs, Neil says through Flowers, his attorney.
Sharon has many other comments, observations and charges, as well.
She wonders ... She wonders whether Neil, 48, was unfaithful to her throughout their marriage as he has admitted he was at the end. She wonders whether Neil is the father of the baby born to Maria Andrews, the 40-year-old Houston woman he is dating. Sharon wonders why he used e-mail to tell her he was leaving and why he told her by phone months later, "You better move on with your life or you'll find yourself in a back alley."
Flowers says those charges are preposterous and untrue.
Laura Spalding, Andrews' attorney, says the child's birth certificate shows Andrews' ex-husband, Robert, as the father. Spalding adds the baby was planned, and tens of thousands of dollars were spent on the christening.
Sharon worries that she is losing the PR war, that people admire Neil and pity her. At 51, she is an unpopular stereotype -- the older woman scorned. She describes herself as a nobody, David vs. Goliath, fighting the Bush political machine.
It took her three months to get child support, she says, which is $750 paid to her every two weeks. Flowers says Neil is actually ahead in his child support payments.
Sharon says she still hasn't received alimony, which will amount to $30,000 a year for four years. Flowers says the alimony isn't supposed to start until the house is sold.
Sharon says she is broke and job-hunting, though some of her professional skills have lapsed while she's raised the kids and taken on various volunteer projects. One favorite is the Points of Light Foundation, the organization that pushes volunteerism and also is beloved by her father-in-law. Another is Houston Children's Charity, which enhances the lives of underprivileged, handicapped and abused kids.
"I don't want to write a book," Sharon says, acknowledging that would be one way to make money. "I just want to be taken care of after 23 years."
Sharon says she has appealed to her in-laws for help. They will put the children through college, which she appreciates. They have offered the smaller house for the limited time period, which she resents.
Senior Bushes mum
At one point, Sharon says, she tried to talk to her former father-in-law, and he changed the subject. "He said, `Come and see the new hot tub.' Like, let's go play with the new toys."
Sharon wants Neil back. "I told him, `Don't leave and scar the children. Give me a weekend to try to fix things.' "
Neil was not interested in so much as a walk around the block, Sharon says. "He told me, `I'm thinking of my future, and you're not in the picture.' "
Barring reconciliation, Sharon puts her energy into improving her divorce settlement.
Mahoney, Sharon's third lawyer since the legal battle began last year, files court documents, legal kibitzing, on her behalf.
"Once I called my mother-in-law for help," Sharon says. "She told me, `Neilsie will talk to me. You talk to your own mother.' "
Voluminous court records offer a more dispassionate view of the Bushes' marriage and divorce:
The Bushes signed a mediated divorce settlement April 28. Earlier this month Sharon filed a motion for a new trial, which was denied.
The selling price for the Bush home originally was set for $1.25 million. The Bushes agreed, however, they would sell it to the first responsible buyer offering $850,000.
The family's listed living expenses include the house mortgage, homeowners insurance, cable service, yard service, pool service, credit card bills and Houston Racquet Club dues.
Sharon gets 75 percent of the family cash after the house is sold and debts are paid. She also gets the contents of the Houston home and a Maine home they do not own. Exceptions are the clothes, sports equipment and jewelry that belong to Neil. Seventy-five percent of the couple's frequent flyer miles go to her, too.
Sharon gets both cars, a BMW sports utility vehicle and a Ford Expedition in Maine.
Sharon gets 50 percent of the couple's stocks, options and retirement accounts.
Shortly before the divorce was actually settled, Sharon asked Family District Court Judge Frank Rynd to order paternity testing on Andrews' baby son. The request was denied.
Neil has his minor children the first, third and fifth weekends of the month, from 6 to 8 p.m. Wednesdays, and Christmases and spring breaks in even-numbered years. He also has them 30 days in the summer if he gives Sharon adequate notice and from 6 to 8 p.m. on their birthdays, if he doesn't have them already.
In the back of the thick file is Neil's original request for a divorce. One line reads, "The petitioner prays for general relief."
I guess privacy only applies to relatives of Rats.
Well, I read it.....
My poor son was ordered to pay over $4500 a month in maintenance and child support and he was earning less than $100,000 a year. The week after he was ordered to pay that the bottom dropped out of the Seattle dot-com industry, and he got laid off. After several months of the financial hemoraging, he finally got back into court and instead of lowering the payments, the judge told him to get a job. Ms. Bush should have filed in Seattle. The poor guys really get screwed here.