Back in November, the Washington Post reported that New York Times columnist David Brooks and his wife of 27 years, Sarah, were divorcing. The unsourced item, under the collective byline of the “Reliable Source” gossip column, rattled a certain portion of the Acela corridor: Here was a leading conservative pundit, a father of three who has blamed single mothers for the country’s “fraying social fabric,” dismantling his own marriage.
The paper, a chief competitor of the Times, even quoted Brooks as saying, some months prior, that “if you have a great career and a crappy marriage, you will be miserable.” The news spurred several writers to accuse Brooks of hypocrisy (which opened a separate debate about the propriety of doing so).
But was the item correct? A spokesperson for the court system of Washington, D.C., where Brooks and his wife have lived since 2012, told Gawker that neither spouse has filed divorce papers in the four-plus months since the Post’s report. Brooks’s relationship status on his Facebook profile remains “Married.” (Judging from its recent activity, the profile appears to be active.) And residence records maintained by Nexis indicate that the Brookses continue to live together in their $3.95 million Cleveland Park home.
“We stand by the report,” a spokesperson for the paper told Gawker, without elaborating on the report’s sourcing.
Did the Brookses change their minds? Was the original story groundless? Few in Brooks’s fairly wide circle were willing to discuss the discrepancy.
“Now why in hell would I talk to you about a friend’s private life?” said Leon Wieseltier, the literary editor of The New Republic.* “Check your compass sometime.”
Another possibility is that one or both spouses wish to conceal the details of their separation. Which is very, very difficult to do in the District of Columbia.
“We don’t anonymize names,” the court spokesperson, Leah Gurowitz, said. “On rare occasions there is a motion to seal a case, but the standards for that are very high. I don’t recall any divorce/custody cases that have been sealed and I have been here a dozen years.”
To file for divorce without creating a public record, the Brookses would need to quietly relocate to a state like New York, where uncontested family cases are kept confidential. New York law requires, for divorce cases, that both parties reside there for at least one year—if only one spouse resides there, it’s two years—and there’s no indication that either David or Sarah Brooks has resettled in New York, or elsewhere.
Nevada gives out speedier divorces, but even those require 90 days’ residency, which would mean uprooting the Brookses’ school-aged children. If you fly to Guam, it’s possible to exploit certain loopholes and divorce yet more quickly, but, again, there’s no sign of either Brooks relocating even briefly to the far side of the International Date Line.
Brooks did not acknowledge requests for comment.
* Correction: This item initially misidentified Wieseltier as a congregant of Adas Israel, the Conservative synagogue to which Brooks belongs. In fact, Wieseltier belongs to Kesher Israel, a modern Orthodox one located in Georgetown. Writes Wieseltier: “This is not just a journalistic delinquency. It is also a metaphysical one.” Gawker regrets the error.
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