Facebook’s relationship status options come up short when it comes to Debbie MacDougall. “It’s complicated” doesn’t even begin to cover things.
Debbie needs her own custom choice, along the lines of: “It’s very, very complicated. I’ve spent the last six years getting divorced, and it may turn out that I was never even married in the first place. Oh, I’ve also published a coloring book about divorce. It’s $12.99 on Amazon.”
I met Debbie last week at a coffee shop in Reston, Va., not far from where she lives. She has been getting divorced for nearly as long as she was married. If she was married, which is kind of the whole issue here. In some of the voluminous legal filings in MacDougall v. Levick/Levick v. MacDougall, Debbie is described as the “putative wife.”
Hey, guys, just try whispering that the next time you’re snuggling with the missus!
To make a long story short: On Dec. 21, 2002, a rabbi officiated at a wedding between Debbie and Richard Levick at their McLean, Va., home. It was an extremely busy time in both their lives, and they hadn’t procured a Virginia marriage license. Two weeks later, they went to the Fairfax County clerk of the court and were issued a marriage license. They sent that to the rabbi, and a week after that — he’d been on vacation — he signed it and mailed it in, dating it Jan. 21, 2003.
The marriage was “consummated” (hey, it’s in the public record), and the license was filed with Virginia’s Division of Vital Records.
In 2011, Debbie filed for divorce. In 2013, her ex and his lawyers noticed the date discrepancy on the marriage license and asserted that the marriage was therefore null and void — and so was the marital agreement stipulating that he pay $150,000 in annual spousal support.
If this sounds like a technicality, well, lawyers love technicalities. It’s how they can afford to put their children through college. The case has been making its convoluted way through the Virginia court system. (An assistant said Richard Levick was under the weather and unavailable for comment.)
Debbie declined to go into detail about her marriage or the divorce — “I have to be careful,” she said — but she was happy to talk about “Divorce: The Comic Coloring Book.” She thinks her self-published book can help ease the sting of marital implosion.
“The number one thing women feel in divorce is alone,” said Debbie, 54, whose day job is as a communications consultant working to promote wine from Moldova, the former Soviet republic. “Your whole social structure changes. Your family situation changes.”
Nearly half of marriages will end in divorce, an experience that is nearly as stressful as the death of a spouse. (That’s something Debbie is familiar with. Her first husband died in 1998, leaving her with two young children.)
Humor books sell well, and so do coloring books. Debbie decided to combine the two. The book, written with Ian Stinson and illustrated by Rachel Cecelski, Molly Cooper and Maggie Gray, has a homemade feel. A snarky one, too.
A section on dealing with now-awkward wedding photos invites women to cut out the faces of the ex and the in-laws and glue them to drawings of such animals as a weasel, a skunk and a snake.
There is a drawing of a cowboy-hatted divorcée trying to stay atop a rodeo bull labeled “Divorce.” (“Use the spurs if you have to,” counsels a friend.) There are the seven “Dwarfettes of Divorce,” including Mopey, Crabby and Ragey.
Debbie says she’s not bitter. A two-page spread shows the divorcée leaving behind “Lifetime Bitterness Cabin” and climbing to the summit of “Mount Happiness.” That’s where Debbie wants her readers to end up.
“I want women to laugh, to sit with a glass of wine at night and color this,” she said.
She’s also hoping that women who buy the coloring book will go to her website — ComicDivorce.com — and share their stories. They can purchase other items, too, including a nightshirt with the word “Unbreakable” on it and vanilla-scented votive candles bearing supportive messages.
“Divorced people need to know someone is thinking about them,” she said.
I wondered whether, given the sometimes harsh tone of her coloring book, Debbie belonged to the J. Geils Band school of human relationships: Love stinks.
“No, divorce stinks,” Debbie said. “Love doesn’t stink. I definitely believe love exists, in all kinds of shapes and forms. I think the power of love is great.”
Later this year, lawyers for the putative wife and the putative husband will make their arguments before the Virginia Supreme Court.
For previous columns, visit washingtonpost.com/johnkelly.