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Divorce, American Style

March 14, 2010 permalink

Serviceman Matthew Kleman is fraudulently divorced by a wife who takes his son and remarries.



Matthew Kleman
Photo courtesy of Spc. Matthew Kleman; staff illustration
Spc. Matthew Kleman provided a sample of what he says is his true signature, top, and the signature on a waiver of service document that he says he didn’t sign because he was in Iraq. The intent of the waiver is to allow the divorce to proceed in his absence. Left, Matthew and his son, Matthew Jr.

One big lie

He learned on MySpace that his wife had divorced him. He knew the marriage was in trouble, but he was in Iraq — and thought he was protected.

It was mid-June 2009, another hot, sweaty day in a yearlong Iraq tour for Spc. Matthew Kleman, a medical support specialist with the 1st Cavalry Division at Fort Hood, Texas.

Out of the blue, one of his buddies sent him an e-mail asking when he and his wife, Renee, another soldier who was back at Fort Hood, had gotten divorced.

Divorced? That was news to Matthew. When he expressed bewilderment, his buddy directed him to his wife’s MySpace page.

What he saw stunned him: His wife claimed she had divorced him June 4 in Texas.

Matthew knew one thing: He hadn’t signed any divorce papers. He couldn’t have; he was in Iraq at the time. And no one sent him any such documents to sign while there, he said.

When he called Renee to ask her what was going on, he says, “She yelled at me, ‘What are you doing on MySpace?’ ”

In the months since, the saga has gotten stranger. Matthew says the copy of the divorce decree he eventually received gives no indication that the court was aware that he and Renee have a child.

He says she later told him she did not tell the court about their son, Matthew Jr., who will turn 2 on March 24, because she didn’t want him to have to pay court-ordered child support. But then, Matthew says, she began demanding $1,000 a month in child support in exchange for the right to see the boy.

Renee declined to respond to repeated requests for comment through her attorney, Daniel Corbin, as well as through Capt. A. Lawson, her company commander at Fort Hood.

Corbin says that in handling Renee’s divorce, he was never told a child was involved.

Matthew says he’s been unable to meet Renee’s monetary demands on an E-4’s pay, so he has been allowed to see his son only twice since his return from Iraq.

Two months after coming home, Matthew is still trying to sort out the details.

How could this happen with no one in an official capacity noticing anything amiss?

A marriage on the rocks

Matthew, 32, admits his marriage had hit choppy waters even before he deployed early last year. While he was on leave the month before deployment, “things started getting crappy,” he says.

They got worse while he was in Kuwait, and later in Iraq.

Matthew called home from the war zone and confronted Renee. He says she acknowledged that she’d been seeing another man. He says he told her that if she wanted a divorce, he’d be willing to work that out. “She said, ‘I don’t want a divorce,’ ” he recalled. “ ‘I like him, but I love you.’ ”

Still, Matthew says, he resigned himself to the fact that the marriage was over. Yet he couldn’t walk away completely because of his son.

Matthew assumed he and Renee would deal with the situation when he returned home. “I thought she couldn’t do anything, with me in Iraq,” he says.

He was wrong.

The Servicemembers’ Civil Relief Act allows service members to seek a postponement of a court proceeding if military duties prevent them from participating.

But no one had notified Matthew that a court proceeding was in motion. Matthew was unaware that his wife had filed for divorce last March, while he was in Iraq.

He also was unaware of a form, dated April 8, bearing his supposed signature and waiving his rights to a court appearance and to be personally served with paperwork in the case. His command confirms he could not have signed the document in Texas because he was in Iraq at the time.

The waiver states: “I agree that this case may be taken up and considered by the Court without further notice to me,” and it also states that Matthew acknowledged receiving a copy of the original filing for divorce — a claim he insists is untrue.

Matthew also was unaware that on June 4 a judge in Bell County, Texas, signed a final divorce decree for Matthew and Renee Kleman.

Finally, he was unaware that a marriage certificate dated June 5 was filed in Bell County certifying that Renee, who is assigned to the 4th Sustainment Brigade, married another man.

A copy of the marriage certificate obtained by Military Times names him as Stanley Daniel Miller Jr.

Matthew says Miller also is a soldier and has since left Fort Hood on a permanent change-of-station move.

After reading Renee’s MySpace posting that she had gotten divorced, Matthew says he sought help from his division judge advocate general’s office in Iraq and called the clerk’s office in Bell County from the war zone.

A clerk confirmed that a divorce decree was signed June 4, and also told him about the waiver he had supposedly signed in April essentially waiving all his normal rights in the divorce case.

Corbin, Renee’s attorney, says it’s the client’s responsibility to get the proper signatures on the paperwork.

“We give all the paperwork to our clients and tell them to have it signed by their spouse,” Corbin says. “We would have no idea if that signature is not legitimate. We check when they bring it back to make sure the information is there.”

But how could documents bearing Matthew’s signature also bear a notary’s seal if he had not signed them in the notary’s presence?

That’s one of Matthew’s many unanswered questions.

A legal labyrinth

Second Brigade spokesman Maj. James Rawlinson confirmed that Matthew was deployed from January through late December 2009, and that his midtour leave dates were May 11-27.

By the time Matthew went on leave, he had informed his command about his marital troubles. He says he went back to his home in New Jersey during his leave after his command advised him it would be best not to rejoin Renee at Fort Hood just then.

A few weeks later, he had returned to Iraq and found out about his “divorce,” Matthew says. He was “relieved in one sense, but still confused, not knowing how she could have done this. I was willing to work with her with the divorce. But not having a voice made it really difficult.”

But now, the paramount issue for Matthew has become his parental rights, which surged to the fore after he finally received a copy of his divorce decree and saw that it states he and Renee have no children.

That means questions of custody, visitation and other issues are not addressed in the divorce — so he has no official visitation rights.

He wants custody of his son, but says Renee refuses even to allow him to see the boy unless he pays her $1,000 a month. He says he can’t afford that on an E-4’s pay, but for the past few months has paid between $400 and $500 a month, because he feels an obligation to his son.

Renee’s company commander confirmed that she and Matthew have a son. Matthew says he saw Matthew Jr. for about five minutes Dec. 20, the day after his return from Iraq; and for about two hours Feb. 20.

“A fraudulent divorce will potentially deprive him of visitation rights,” says retired Air Force Reserve Col. John Odom, a recognized expert on the Servicemembers’ Civil Relief Act.

Odom says Matthew needs to get an attorney to reopen court proceedings. The legal assistance office at Fort Hood has helped Matthew find a civilian attorney.

At press time, Matthew was formalizing an agreement for attorney Barbara Weaver to represent him. Weaver says based on her research so far, “We will file a bill of review based on fraud, asking that [Renee] and the notary be prosecuted on charges of fraud and forgery.

“I’ve never seen a case like this before,” Weaver says.

Shelia Norman, clerk of the court for the 146th Judicial District in Bell County, said that if Matthew believes a fraudulent document was filed, he should report it to local civilian authorities.

“That whole divorce could be set aside if it could be proved he didn’t sign” the waiver, Renee’s own attorney acknowledges. “Nobody’s going to let an injustice like that stand.”

Properly notarized?

A copy of the waiver Matthew supposedly signed last April bears a notary’s official seal and Matthew’s driver’s license number. A phone number on the document — supposedly Matthew’s — turns out to be a listing for the Monroe Clinic at Fort Hood’s Darnall Community Hospital.

The notary who certified the document, Chipper L. Beegle, could not be reached for comment. He sold his business late last year, according to the new owner, who explained that notaries maintain logbooks containing information about what documentation was used to confirm someone’s identity. As is common practice, Beegle took his logbook with him when he left.

Rawlinson, spokesman for 2nd Brigade, says he cannot comment on Matthew’s case, but Matthew says his command is working with him to investigate the situation.

In the case of a contentious divorce during a deployment, the command’s first step generally is to advise the service member to get a copy of the divorce decree and hire an attorney, Rawlinson says. “If there is no pressing issue, they would wait until they got home from deployment. If there is, they try to go home on emergency leave,” he says.

As if Matthew didn’t have enough unanswered questions, there is another mystery: He says his file in the Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System, the database that determines the eligibility of service members and their families for various military benefits, was changed without his knowledge or consent.

Specifically, Matthew’s son was removed from his DEERS record and put on the record of Renee’s new husband, he says.

“For any change to be made on DEERS, there has to be a proper documentation and reason,” says Army Lt. Col. Mike Moose, a spokesman for Army Human Resources Command. “Custody of the child would play a role. If this was a valid divorce with proper documentation to show that there is custody of the child, normally the child [would be] on the DEERS of the spouse with custody.”

Officials should be able to determine when a change in the DEERS account was made, and from which computer, Moose says.

Matthew says his command is checking on that.

As he tries to work through the whirlwind that has enveloped him, he looks back and wonders how it could have come to this.

He met Renee in 2005, when they were in the same battalion at Fort Bragg, N.C., when they went out with friends one night. They dated for almost two years before tying the knot, he says.

“I thought it was bliss,” he says. “Apparently it wasn’t.”

Source: Navy Times