It is easy to mock the ambitious, the wealthy, the strivers. It is easy, too, to be fascinated by the details of their lives. The state Supreme Court released to the public yesterday its opinions in the Schieffer v. Schieffer divorce case. Kevin and Carmen certainly packed a lot of living and a lot of animosity into a little time as a couple. They knew each other since 1999, he living in Sioux Falls and she living various places in the world primarily New York City. He was a lad from Yankton who climbed through the office ranks of then-U.S. Sen. Larry Pressler in the 1980s to become chief of staff, adding a law degree along the way. While in Pressler’s office he helped steer federal aid to a struggling railroad line across central South Dakota. Then through the influence of Pressler and South Dakota Republican Party insider Ron Schmidt he received federal appointment as U.S. attorney for South Dakota. From there he went to the front office of the Dakota, Minnesota and Eastern, the railroad he had helped, and he launched an incredibly big gamble to expand the DM&E into a coal-hauler linking the Powder River Basin fields to the Midwest. He and then-Gov. Bill Janklow engaged in fierce, deeply personal political struggles over the railroad’s attempt to use eminent domain to drive its way through western South Dakota. Ultimately the rail project fell through and the DM&E was purchased by Canadian Pacific. Along the way he became a millionaire and, in 2007, the same year of the DM&E sale, she became pregnant.
She signed a pre-nuptial that guaranteed her at least $1 million and as much as $5 million in the event of a divorce. Kevin and Carmen married on Sept. 22, 2007. The next month, Canadian Pacific completed the deal. He stayed with the operation for the next year. Their daughter was born March 6, 2008, needing heart surgery that kept the child and mother in New York City for five months. The child also had Down syndrome. Carmen and their child moved to Sioux Falls. In 2009 Carmen was pregnant with a second child. That October, after just a year in Sioux Falls in the same household with Kevin, she told her husband she was moving back to New York City for the sake of their daughter’s therapy. He fought it. That December she filed a court claim for maintenance, custody, child support and permission to relocate. He filed a counter-claim citing the prenuptial agreement. As they fought through 2010, their son was born that May. Their divorce trial occurred that November, and the trial judge delivered the final decision in July 2011. She received nearly all of the $5 million amount from the pre-nuptial agreement. Tom Welk of Sioux Falls was the lead attorney representing Kevin, while Linda Lea Viken of Rapid City was the lead attorney for Carmen.
Carmen wanted more than the trial judge, Douglas Hoffman, awarded her in child support, however, and appealed to the Supreme Court. This week the five justices upheld the trial court in general, including denial of $370,000 in her attorney fees. But two justices — John Konenkamp and Steve Zinter — filed partial dissents, saying there wasn’t a legal barrier prohibiting the trial judge from giving her more than the maximum amount of $2,815 in South Dakota’s child-support grid. In addition to the $2,815 Kevin was also made 95 percent responsible for many other costs for the children, including his daughter’s medical and therapeutical needs. The Supreme Court calculated those additional costs will come to $15,010 or more per month, to be paid by Kevin.
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There is so much sadness in this tale from real life. During her first two years of life, their daughter wasn’t allowed by her mother to have any playmates and wasn’t allowed to be with other children from Kevin’s side of the family. Carmen thought therapy was much more important. The trial court determined Kevin’s annual income was $2,115,080 and Carmen’s was $105,080. In New York City, Carmen had been a vice president for an international insurance and investment company before they married. The Supreme Court in its decision this week said the following: “Simply because Carmen spent excessively during the parties’ marriage does not mean that Kevin must maintain that standard of living following their divorce, especially given that Kevin objected to Carmen’s spending during the marriage and given that the parties’ young children’s actual needs do not correspond with such an opulent standard of living.”
In the end, both Kevin and Carmen filed claims against each other for the attorney fees each side faced for the appeal, too. Kevin claimed $11,030.05 whle Carmen claimed $29,910.78. The Supreme Court concluded neither one should pay the other’s.