John M. Fedders, who resigned a top post at the Securities and Exchange Commission amid accusations that he beat his wife, sought court permission yesterday to halt alimony payments, saying his former wife Charlotte has profited from her "unprecedented exploitation" of the wide publicity surrounding their divorce.
In documents filed in Montgomery County Circuit Court, Fedders said his former wife's "publicity ventures" -- especially her recent book about their tortured marriage -- has ruined any hope he had of rebuilding a legal practice and has left him unable to pay $500 a month in alimony.
The book, "Shattered Dreams," is part of Charlotte Fedders' "compulsive drive toward revenge" against her former husband, a "vendetta" that has accelerated his "economic tailspin," according to the documents prepared by John Fedders' attorney, Hal Witt.
In an interview yesterday, Charlotte Fedders said she had been struggling to raise five sons on $750 a month in child support payments, the alimony and her part-time income from a Potomac flower shop. She said that not enough copies of the book have been sold yet for her to begin receiving royalties.
She said she is not seeking vengence against her former husband, who resigned as SEC enforcement director in 1985.
She said his charges did not surprise her. "Nothing he does surprises me anymore," she said.
Fedders' request to stop paying alimony comes two months after a controversial decision by a Circuit Court domestic relations official, John S. McInerney, who reduced the alimony to $500 a month, from $750, and awarded John Fedders a 25 percent share of the proceeds from "Shattered Dreams."
In his Oct. 16 ruling, which Charlotte Fedders has appealed, McInerney agreed with John Fedders, who had argued that he and his former wife were equally to blame for the 1983 breakup of their marriage. He had testified that Charlotte Fedders taunted him in front of their children and baited him with suggestions of suicide during his spells of depression. Fedders used that same argument yesterday in documents asking a Circuit Court judge to free him from making alimony payments.
Although Charlotte Fedders requested alimony in her intitial divorce complaint, she failed to do so in subsequent, amended complaints. For that reason, she is not entitled to alimony, John Fedders argued in the documents.
Moreover, the documents said, requiring him to pay alimony is unfair because Charlotte Fedders stands to profit from the book -- part of her "publicity campaign" to prevent John Fedders from regaining prominence as a lawyer.
During their marriage, she "taunted" her husband during his bouts with depression, according to the documents. "She threatened to ruin him. She falsely accused him, in front of two of their children, of taking a bribe. She insulted him in front of his parents . . . . She told him to hit her. She mocked him when he was depressed . . . . "
Since their separation, Charlotte Fedders has portrayed herself as a blameless victim of a violent husband, which is "a myth," the documents said.
John Fedders, who made more than $160,000 a year in private practice before becoming a top SEC lawyer in 1980, has testified that he expects to earn about $30,000 as a lawyer this year.
In that light, the documents said, "circumstance and justice require an end to alimony in this case."
John Fedders' request for a termination of alimony came in two documents filed in Circuit Court yesterday. One document was an appeal of McInerney's decision to reduce the alimony instead of eliminating it.
In her appeal, Charlotte Fedders has challenged McInerney's decisions on several issues, including the alimony amount, division of book proceeds, ownership of the couple's Potomac house and child visitation rights.
The appeals are expected to be heard by a Circuit Court judge early next year. In the meantime, McInerney's ruling remains in abeyance and John Fedders must continue making monthly alimony payments of $750.