Divorce cases, especially celebrity splits, can get nasty, with bitterness-inspired accusations flying, sometimes with little regard for the truth. But when it's final, how does a celebrity target of those reputation-damaging claims – in the age of the Internet spread instantly around the globe – regain the esteem of those who read and perhaps believe the mud?
Craig Schelske is finding out.
He's the former husband of country music star Sara Evans. Their divorce was final some time ago and both have moved on with their lives. But Schelske described the smear-attacks he endured and its impact on his life.
Those allegations included claims of photographic evidence of sexual misbehavior on Schelske's part, including statements that he posted explicit images in the digital world – allegations he has denied throughout the process.
Now Schelske is working with a newly formed organization called FamiliesUnite.org that seeks to protect parents who are targeted in those divorce fights.
"We have found an honest, Christian, conservative parent that has been totally destroyed by the system and a news media that just accepted that all the facts put out were true," Families Unite spokesman William Fain told WND.
Oh, and Schelske also has a multi-million dollar slander case pending against his former wife's divorce lawyer, a case that insiders report to WND appears to be strong since similar claims against the lawyer by Alison Clinton Lee, the couple's former nanny, already have been settled for a large sum of cash.
Schelske told WND he's fighting this fight because of the damage to his career – he was a candidate for Congress in 2002 from Oregon's 5th District – he wants his children to know his innocence and he wants to be able to meet people without having to explain his defense of the sordid allegations.
"I want my name back. Schelske has been a good name for generations," he said. "I hope my story can inspire other people."
He described to WND the couple's 13 years together – mostly made up of times of success, happiness and descriptions as a "model couple." The couple met in Nashville in the early 1990s and married in 1993. He had put a political career on hold while she pursued a country music career that soon skyrocketed.
But as a Christian, he began to see things in the entertainment industry with which he was uncomfortable: some issues behind the scenes, the type of people frequenting their home, influences on his children.
He blames the divorce on influences that he says affected Evans. WND attempts to obtain a response from the singing star did not generate a response.
Eventually, she decided to get an attorney and file the divorce complaint, he told WND. But his reputation was a clean slate.
His lawsuit alleges that the divorce lawyers, John J. Hollins Sr. and his firm, Hollins, Wagster, Yarbrough, Weatherly & Raybin, simply came up with allegations that would make him appear dirty, and give the singer, portrayed as the sweet next-door type, a substantial reason for a divorce.
"While the allegations contained in the complaint for divorce falsely accuse the plaintiff of adultery and other alleged misconduct, the plaintiff does not base this present action on the fact that false statements about him are contained in the divorce pleadings, or upon any statements made by the defendants in the course of judicial proceedings," the complaint states.
But, "defendant Hollins made the following extra-judicial statement to a representative of 'People' magazine: 'He (Schelske) was quoted in the press as saying he hadn't done anything wrong and he wanted everybody to pray for Sara. Let me tell you what, everything we allege, we've got photographs to back up the allegations of the complaint,'" the lawsuit said.
"At the time the defendant made this extra-judicial statement, he knew it to be false, and he also knew that no photographs existed which depicted the plaintiff engaged in any type of illicit or adulterous activity," the action states.
WND messages left with Hollins did not generate a comment from him or his law firm for this article.
The complaint continued with a description of another comment from Hollins, "in the presence of representatives of the national and local press, including 'People' magazine, Entertainment Tonight, TMZ Inside Edition, 'The Tennessean,' and others:"
"'Hell, we have a picture of them (Schelske and former nanny Lee) having oral sex.'"
Once again, the complaint states, Hollins "knew them to be false and that no photographs existed…"
The comments, the action says, were false, malicious, reckless and resulted in "mental anguish, embarrassment, humiliation and emotional suffering and injury to reputation, loss of earning capacity, and loss of enjoyment of life, for which he is entitled to judgment."
The result of the statements was predictable: "Sounds like a country song in the making: You can keep your porn stash/I'll take the house, kids and cash," wrote Yahoo.com
The ribald headlines developed even though the "photographs" allegedly of Schelske actually revealed men of different races, sources within the dispute told WND.
One mediation attempt already has failed. Whether another is held remains to be seen. But a similar case filed by Lee over the divorce case's allegations she and Schelske engaged in a fling already has been settled.
E!News reported earlier this year that "the caregiver and her hubby scored more than $500,000 in the settlement" of their lawsuit.
Law professor Jeff Atkinson of DePaul University told WND such slander claims against divorce lawyers are unusual but not unheard-of. Often, he noted, in divorce actions there are "bad feelings" directed against opposing counsel.
He said divorce lawyers do have a duty to reasonably investigate the truth of "pleadings that might be inflammatory." The American Bar Association said it did not track such cases by the type of allegation.
But Fain, whose newly formed organization is working to protect the rights of either parent, not just fathers, said, "What we have is a case where the court allowed the attorneys to completely destroy a father."
He said since Evans had been marketed as "the girl next door," she simply couldn't file for divorce without a reason.
"We will be using [Families Unite} to expose cases like this," he said.
In this case, he said, "The goal seems to have been to protect Sara. … They had to make Craig look so bad to the 'fans' that they understood she 'had to leave' for the good of the children."
The defense in Schelske's slander case has been ordered to produce billings records, any e-mails concerning the case, any correspondence related to the dispute, any communication that references Schelske at all and all reports by private investigators.
The information has yet to be delivered and Schelske said his lawyers are considering a motion to compel to obtain compliance with the court's orders.
Sources said that the case is especially bad for the divorce lawyers since Evans stated during a deposition that the divorce complaint allegations about the nude photographs of her husband were incorrect.
A video also revealed that a testy Hollins admitted Lee had accused the law firm of contriving the allegations.
By this time, the Yahoo reporting had changed. "We can't wait to see her legal team try to boogie their way out of this," the agency said.
Schelske told WND the media "frenzy" created by the juicy allegations, however, didn't give him a chance. He even recalls being tormented by a court-appointed counselor who told him that the divorce attorneys had "authenticated" the photographs.
The result was his $10 million slander case.
"I'm a Christian. It's something I've had to pray about a lot. The message that comes back to me is that I am to finish this fight," he told WND.
He also promised that some day, others victimized in a divorce battle will be able to read or hear his story and take encouragement.
"I will not be silent," he said.
WND has reported previously on another divorce action that targeted a father. In that case, a challenge was staged to custody procedures in Tennessee that allegedly are unconstitutionally biased in favor of mothers.
Numerous organizations are working for the rights of fathers in divorce or custody disputese, including FathersCustody.org, LongDistanceParenting.org, Fathers False Charges Helpline, Fathers National Lawyers Referral, WinningCustody.com, FathersRights.org and the American Coalition for Fathers and Children.