It took him 2,346 words, but Rep. Mark Sanford (R-S.C.) announced Friday that he's hiring a lawyer to deal with a years-long divorce from his ex-wife and ending his engagement to his fiancee.
Shortly before posting his message online, Sanford also filed a motion requesting a gag order against his ex-wife, Jenny Sanford, that will be heard by a judge on Monday.
The latest twist in the lengthy soap opera-like feud will draw renewed attention to a scandal that burst open in 2009 when Sanford, then the governor of South Carolina, went missing for several days. After aides claimed he'd been hiking along the Appalachian Trail, he returned to the state capitol, appeared before television cameras and cried as said he had traveled to Argentina to be with his "soul mate," Maria Belen Chapur. The incident ended his marriage, jeopardized his governorship and destroyed his presidential ambitions.
But Sanford returned to Congress last year after winning a special election as part of an attempt to rehabilitate his image. Since returning to Capitol Hill, Sanford has been spotted around Washington with Chapur several times. But he's also been battling Jenny Sanford.
Things have grown especially tense in recent weeks after Jenny Sanford demanded that the congressman undergo a psychiatric evaluation and complete anger management and parenting classes as part of divorce proceedings. She also sought to put limitations on her ex-husband's visitation rights with their youngest son, who is 16.
After spending weeks saying little publicly about his ex-wife's accusations, Mark Sanford reversed course Friday via social media.
He began by saying that "I apologize for the length of this post, but given the gravity of the issue at hand when I sat down to write late last night a long list of things came to my mind."
"I am going to get a lawyer to defend me on this case," Sanford wrote later. His new attorney will be instructed "not to fight back, to work to de-escalate and defuse and to look for measured justice and an end to controversy."
He wrote that he didn't initially hire a lawyer when divorce proceedings began "because I could not imagine standing in a court room with one in some adversarial form against the mother of our boys." But ever since the divorce proceedings began four and a half years ago, "there has been either the threat of lawsuit or actual lawsuit about every six months," he said.
Money has also been an issue, Sanford wrote: "Spending money getting lawyers to resolve differences, when I believed any two people sitting down could do the same, also broke with my belief on stewardship…or what some would call my frugal ways. But here we are and I am comfortable knowing I have tried near everything within my power to avoid lawyers and court - and in my belief that I will continue to work to avoid acrimony going forward. I am simply handing off the keys in dealing with this so that I can focus without further distraction on our boys and my work in Washington."
The congressman also disputed questions about visitation rights. "There is no visitation schedule. She has full custody," he wrote. "Over the last five years she has determined the visitation schedule and informed me at the beginning of this year that I would not be given one. I pleaded otherwise, pointing out that no boy wants to be put in the place of having to pick between their mother and dad."
Sanford then disclosed that he's splitting with Chapur, who he usually refers to as Belen in public.
"No relationship can stand forever this tension of being forced to pick between the one you love and your own son or daughter, and for this reason Belen and I have decided to call off the engagement," he wrote. "Maybe there will be another chapter when waters calm with Jenny, but at this point the environment is not conducive to building anything given no one would want to be caught in the middle of what’s now happening."
He added that Chapur "is a remarkably wonderful woman who I have always loved and I will be forever grateful for not only the many years we have known and loved each other, but the last six very tough ones wherein she has encouraged me and silently borne its tribulations with her ever warm and kind spirit."
In the two court motions Sanford filed Friday, he seeks resolution of the custody dispute over his youngest son, asks that Jenny Sanford cover all attorneys fees and requests a gag order, because "the allegations should not be tried 'in the court of public opinion.'"
Marie-Louise Ramsdale, an attorney for Jenny Sanford, said in an e-mail Friday that her client "has always put their children first and will always stand up for the boys’ best interests and safety." The congressman's Facebook posting "directly contradicts" his court filings requesting a gag order, she said.
"Apparently, he only wants a gag order after he has publicly laid out his position and disparaged my client - what he claimed she would do to him," Ramsdale added.