Charlotte Fedders, whose widely publicized divorce from former Securities and Exchange Commission official John M. Fedders revealed a history of domestic violence and cruelty, has filed for bankruptcy, according to court records.
Fedders says she owes nearly $130,000 in debts she is unable to repay, according to records filed in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Rockville.
In a petition filed last month, Fedders, who has custody of the couple's five sons, listed more than 30 creditors and said she owed $21,000 in legal fees stemming from her divorce and $12,000 to a psychologist who has been counseling the family.
According to the court documents, Fedders has filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy, used most often by consumers with limited assets who have credit problems.
Neither John Fedders nor his lawyer, Hal Witt, could be reached for comment yesterday.
Charlotte Fedders' other debts include outstanding credit card accounts, medical bills and more than $16,000 in loans from her friends and family members, according to court records.
In a divorce settlement granted last November, John Fedders was ordered to pay his wife $750 for child support, or $150 per child, and $750 a month for alimony, according to an order signed by Montgomery County Circuit Court Judge James S. McAuliffe.
Charlotte Fedders was granted use of a house in Potomac valued at $275,000 where the family lived for 13 years before she filed for divorce in 1983.
In a telephone interview yesterday, Charlotte Fedders said her ex-husband has made his court-ordered payments on schedule. But she said the $1,500 in monthly payments and her $4,000-a-year job at a private school were not enough for the family to live on.
She said her bleak financial situation has forced her and her sons into a "hand-to-mouth existence," and her three older sons have to do odd jobs in the neighborhood "just to help make ends meet."
"We all have to chip in, and whatever we make goes into the family pot," she said.
"When the boys make some money mowing lawns or shoveling snow they can put the money in their bank accounts, but whenever I need it they give it to me."
Fedders said she also had begun shopping at discount stores, selling Amway products and accepting hand-me-down clothing for her two youngest children from friends and family.
"I'm a very good shopper, mainly because I wasn't allowed to spend money when I was married," Fedders said. "But now I go to Marshall's for a sale instead of Garfinckel's."
In 1983, Fedders filed for divorce asserting that her husband was domineering and often physically abused her.
At the time, John Fedders was a prominent Washington lawyer who had left a high-paying job with a private law firm for a $63,000-a-year presidential appointment as the top enforcement officer for the SEC.
In emotion-filled testimony during her divorce trial and in a long cover story in Washingtonian magazine, Charlotte Fedders recounted how the romance with her 6-foot, 10-inch college sweetheart turned into a nightmarish marriage in which she was repeatedly beaten by her husband.
During the divorce proceedings, John Fedders admitted that some of incidents had taken place but said his wife had exaggerated the extent of his physical abuse.
Friends and colleagues depicted Fedders as a highly respected and aggressive investigator whose ambition drove him to live beyond his means.
John Fedders resigned from the SEC shortly after revelations of the abuse became public and is now working as a lawyer in private practice.
Charlotte Fedders said yesterday that despite her financial problems she and her sons are happier since the divorce. "It took me a long time before I could say the word bankruptcy without choking on it," she said. "We've had to give up a lot and I don't know if I'll ever be able to set foot in another country club. But that's okay, because now we are a real family."
Researchers Barbara Feinman and Ferman Patterson contributed to this report.