PALM BEACH, FL: Custody lessons from Roxanne Pulitzer’s Palm Beach Divorce

When Roxanne Pulitzer divorced Herbert Pulitzer back in 1982, I was still a young kid so I had no idea that this case even occurred until today, I’m embarrassed to say. But at the time, it was dubbed the most famous divorce case in the country! Wow. I wasn’t even aware that Mademoiselle Pulitzer had written a best-selling book about her life with Herbert called, The Prize Pulitzer  “The Scandal That Rocked Palm Beach – The Real Story.”

Hers is a fascinating story, though. It’s funny how I am posting about her because I woke up this morning thinking, “oh, I want to write about divorce in Palm Beach today.” (That is sort of how I approach writing for this blog. I wake up and decide I want to write a certain thing. It could be the most far-flung, far-removed thing that is only tangentially related to divorce. But I wake up with the thought and then I run with it…)

But, so, on reading up the Pulitzer case, I found it interesting from a few standpoints not the least of which is the fact that the Florida judge who handled the case, Carl H. Harper, really seems to have thrown the book at poor Roxanne in more ways than one. He basically seemed to say that she was an “unfit” mother because of her sexual behavior in the marriage (there were accusations of menages a trois, apparently); and the judge gave custody of the twin boys Zac and Mac to their father, even though, at the time, Florida followed the “tender age” rule, which means that very young children were placed with their mothers after a divorce, so as not to break the maternal bond. (New York used to follow the tender age rule too, but not any more.)

Hon. Carl Harper apparently felt that Roxanne would be too much of a bad influence on her kids (there were also other allegations having to do with drug use.) And Roxanne Pulitzer was apparently into “seances” or supernatural stuff and it freaked out the judge–which is pretty funny if you think about it objectively.

Btw, why do they call her the “strumpet with the trumpet”? I don’t get it. But in any event, the judge just seemed to feel that as a mom, she was bad news and he gave her very “limited visitation privileges” with her children. Roxanne apparently argued that her husband also engaged in some of the behavior she engaged in, the judge just pooh poohed her cavils and gave Herbert Pulitzer full physical and legal custody of the children.  

The judge adjudicated Roxanne guilty of  “gross moral misconduct.”  He also only awarded her about $2000 per month, even though her hubby Herbert Pulitzer was a rich descendant of publishing magnate Joseph Pulitzer, and was “considered to be one of the most eligible bachelors in the wealthy Florida enclave of Palm Beach” where they lived.

Notwithstanding all of the foregoing, the bottom line was that even though Florida is a “no fault” state, the judge still threw the book at Roxanne for her “immoral” sexual behavior during the marriage, and not only cremed her as far as equitable distribution was concerned (I believe Florida is an equitable distribution state: http://www.divorcesaloon.com/community-property-vs-equitable-distribution-states-what-is-the-difference), but he wrestled custody of the children from her and severely limited her parenting time with her kids. I think the judge might have been a bit harsh. But without more information, I guess I should reserve my opinion on this one.

But it seems Roxanne made out okay. She posed for Playboy, wrote a few well-received books, re-married (and divorced) and still has a good relationship with her sons who are now young men. Plus, she’s on the child custody circuit and gives lectures about the subject all over the place.

So there is life after divorce and there is life after losing custody. That is the takeaway I get from the Pulitzer affair….she’s still alive, right?

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