What We Missed in Mark Sanford’s Divorce Papers

Mark Sanford

Since several court documents related to Mark and Jenny Sanford’s divorce were leaked to the Associated Press earlier this month, reports have focused almost entirely on the complaint filed by Jenny Sanford alleging that her ex-husband had trespassed on her property.

Mark Sanford acknowledged that the now-infamous Super Bowl incident did occur and has explained the circumstances surrounding the situation in exhaustive detail, standing by his decision to violate the terms of the court order barring him from entering his ex-wife’s property.

The other court documents leaked to the press, however, have largely been ignored.

These papers outline two other instances in which Mark Sanford allegedly failed to comply with the terms of the Sanfords’ divorce agreement:

  • One occasion of violating the child support agreement by failing to pay $5,000 of a son’s college tuition
  • An ill-defined incident involving the Sanford children and airplanes

Although Jenny Sanford confirmed that the child support issue was subsequently resolved, the airplane incident has never been explained publicly. Context and details were omitted from the leaked affidavit.

The divorce settlement agreement — which was not included in the documents leaked — appears to contain a section specific to the Sanford family’s Coosaw Plantation, a sprawling property in Beaufort County purchased by Mark Sanford’s late father in 1965. One of the leaked affidavits references Paragraph II. B. of the divorce agreement, which provides that “at any time the children are at Coosaw, the parties agree that (1) no airplanes will be flown at children, and (2) the property will be insured at a reasonable level to satisfy liability claims.”

In that same affidavit, Jenny Sanford claims that Provision 1 (the airplane provision) was violated “on or about January 15, 2011,” and that the violation of Provision 2 (the liability insurance provision) “is ongoing.”

Provision 2 seems fairly straightforward.  Jenny Sanford and her children have an interest in Mark Sanford’s staying solvent, so she wants to make certain that Coosaw Plantation is adequately insured and her ex-husband’s assets are protected. He is still required to pay child support and may be required to pay alimony.  It’s also possible that Jenny Sanford has a financial interest herself in the companies that own Coosaw Plantation — The Sanford Land Co. and the Sanford Family Partnership, made up of members of Sanford’s family.

Side Note: Jenny Sanford has plenty of justification for being concerned about liability and Coosaw. Two children have drowned there in tragic accidents over the past eleven years:

  • In 2002 an eight year-old girl wandered onto the property at Coosaw Plantation and drowned in what the Sanfords described as a “retaining pond.” The backstory in South Carolina political circles is that Mark Sanford enjoys digging holes on the property with his hydraulic excavator to “unwind.” The child fell into one of these holes — which had filled with water — and drowned. The Sanfords are said to have reached a settlement with the child’s family, and the details were never made public, but the sum that the Sanfords paid is said to have been “around $300,000.”
  • Nine years later a six year-old boy attending a birthday party at the invitation of Sanford’s brother John and his wife Julia was found at the bottom of the plantation’s swimming pool. The boy was taken to the Medical University of South Carolina, where he died two days later. The death was ruled an accident, but the boy’s parents filed a wrongful death action against The Sanford Land Co. and the Sanford Family Partners.

 

But back to the mysterious airplane provision.

What does “at any time the children are at Coosaw, the parties agree that … no airplanes will be flown at children” mean?

Are these real airplanes or toy airplanes? It’s possible that this provision included a typo and, perhaps, was intended to read, “…(N)o airplanes will be flown [by] children at Coosaw…” or “(N)o airplanes will be flown [with] children at Coosaw…” instead.

(Mark Sanford has shown some serious lapses in judgment in recent years, but it seems unlikely that he would do something as reckless as flying airplanes — real or toy — at his children.)

There is also a grass strip near Coosaw Plantation that is used for small aircraft takeoffs, which may be related to the airplane provision.

Whatever the case may be, Jenny Sanford felt strongly enough to include a specific provision pertaining to airplanes and children at Coosaw in their divorce agreement.

Another potentially noteworthy detail relating to the airplane provision is the timeline of the affidavit in which it is cited.  Jenny Sanford’s affidavit claims that the airplane provision was violated “at or around January 15, 2011,” several days after Sanford completed his second term as governor. However, according to the date on the affidavit, Jenny Sanford didn’t give her sworn testimony about this incident until March 2, 2012 — over a year after the airplane incident occurred — and then didn’t file the affidavit until August 7, 2012.

Why the considerable delays?

And what happened at Coosaw Plantation on January 15, 2011?

The leaked divorce documents appear to have been aimed at publicly damaging Mark Sanford’s Congressional bid, and they also appear to have been carefully selected. After the blow-up of the trespassing incident in the press, the next big story may be discovering what happened that day at Coosaw Plantation.