2020 Election

Dem Senate Candidate Kelly Wanted Ex-Wife Jailed Amid Custody Dispute

Court records contradict autobiographical claims of an ‘amicable’ divorce

Mark Kelly
Mark Kelly / Getty Images

Arizona Democratic Senate candidate Mark Kelly made an odd request years after his 2004 divorce: The famed astronaut petitioned a Texas court in 2010 to sentence his ex-wife to 6 months in jail and 10 years of supervised release after she moved to a new town a few miles outside of their children’s school district.

The court records from Galveston County, Texas—which include recriminations from both sides and detail a lengthy custody dispute—show that Kelly claimed his ex-wife Amy’s move was a violation of their custody agreement.

The documents, which include a temporary restraining order issued against Kelly in 2004, appear to contradict his description of the divorce as "amicable" in his 2011 autobiography. The order was never served, according to Kelly's campaign.

The former couple faced off in court a year earlier after Kelly accused his ex-wife of moving to a nearby town in Texas without giving him proper notice.

Kelly, who is locked in a tight Senate race against Republican Martha McSally, said then that his ex-wife violated their custody agreement because her new home was a few miles outside the school district where they had been sending their children, and she had neglected to give him 60 days notice of the move or get his consent. He asked the court to imprison her in the county jail for six months, the maximum penalty for contempt.

Amy Kelly should "be confined in the county jail for 179 days or until [she] complies with the order," Kelly said in the petition. He requested that she "be placed on community supervision for ten years on release from jail" and that she be ordered to pay his attorney’s fees along with "postjudgment interest."

"Movant [Mark Kelly] prays that Respondent [Amy Kelly] be held in contempt and punished as requested, that the Court order community supervision, that the Court order a bond or security," the filing reads.

Kelly dropped his petition without explanation the day before a hearing was scheduled.

Texas attorneys consulted by the Free Beacon were divided on the significance of the court orders. Rick Walker, a family law attorney and University of North Texas professor, said contempt accusations are typically seen in combative divorce cases.

"If you come and threaten someone with contempt, that’s certainly not amicable," said Walker, who ran an unsuccessful campaign for a state house seat as a Republican earlier this year. "Because you’re saying, ‘I want you, as a parent, to be in jail.’ I’m not sure how that serves the children better."

Contacted for comment, a woman who answered the phone said Amy Kelly was unavailable but agreed to take a message for her. Shortly thereafter, a spokesman for the Kelly campaign contacted the Free Beacon by email. "I was notified that someone from the Free Beacon attempted to contact Amy Kelly this morning for a story about Senate candidate Mark Kelly," Kelly communications director Jacob Peters wrote.

The Kelly campaign later provided a written statement to the Free Beacon on behalf of Amy Kelly.

"Mark is and always has been a great dad and is dedicated to his family as much as he is to his country," said Amy Kelly. "This impressed me from the beginning. We continue to have a relationship based on family and friends even today being divorced for 15 years. It bothers me that anyone could or would attack his integrity involving this matter regarding our family."

Jen Cox, campaign manager for Mark Kelly, said in a statement to the Free Beacon that reporting on the divorce records was "a desperate smear attempt" and "completely out of bounds."

In June 2012, Kelly also filed a request with the court that would prohibit his ex-wife from making "disparaging remarks" about him and his family around their children.

The astronaut-turned-businessman who claims to have a net worth up to $27 million also requested that his ex-wife pay his attorney's fees if the dispute went to trial. She submitted a notice to the court days later saying that she had filed for bankruptcy the prior month.

Kelly has said he met his current wife, former congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, at a leadership seminar in China in 2003. His first wife, Amy Kelly, filed for divorce in June 2004.

The court approved her temporary restraining order against Mark Kelly on Jun. 8, 2004. "[U]nless Mark E. Kelly is immediately restrained from the commission of the act(s) hereinafter prohibited, [he] will commit such act(s) before notice of the hearing on temporary injunction can be served and a hearing had," wrote the judge in the case.

Susan McLerran, a family law attorney in Houston, said temporary restraining orders are "very common depending on the type of family court matter," and the language included in Amy Kelly’s was a boilerplate order.

Walker, by contrast, said the introduction of a temporary restraining order is a sign that a divorce is not amicable. "Sometimes it’s necessary if there’s abuse that’s going on that needs to be stopped, but to me these are flags that it’s not amicable," he said.

The order barred Kelly from communicating with his ex-wife in a "vulgar, profane, obscene or indecent language," placing anonymous threatening phone calls to her, "causing bodily injury to [her] or the children," threatening his ex-wife and damaging their property. It also gave his ex-wife temporary custody of the children.

Kelly’s ex-wife did not detail in her application any examples of abusive behavior, and judges have wide autonomy to issue temporary injunctions and restraining orders in divorce cases and often give additional weight to petitioners.

There is no indication that Kelly’s ex-wife sought a permanent restraining order, or that the court approved it. A final order dealing with financial and custody details was issued on Oct. 7, 2004, three months later, giving both parents shared custody of their two children with the primary domicile going to the mother.

Kelly makes a passing reference to his divorce in Gabby, a 2011 book he wrote with Giffords, the congresswoman turned gun-control activist, whom he married in 2007.

"[Gabby] was the stepmother, arriving in the girls’ lives after their mom and I had divorced," he wrote. "The divorce was amicable, but the girls didn’t need or want another mother figure."