Originally created 12/31/06

Woman whose sons were killed by estranged spouse fights for divorce reform

This time last year, Karyn Grace-Parker was trying to free herself from a nightmare marriage to Terry Young. Under South Carolina's divorce laws, she had to move out of her home just to get the process started.

Then came the horrific crime Jan. 8 that many people in North Augusta would rather forget.

During his weekend visitation with their sons Gunner, 7, and Ryker, 4, Mr. Young drowned and strangled them in a bath tub, placed their bodies on the bed of the master bedroom in their Mill Run home, laid down beside them, then shot himself in the head with a .38 caliber pistol.

But Mrs. Grace-Parker will never forget. She plans to take up her fight again next year to change her state's divorce law, which requires husbands and wives to live apart for one year before a divorce can be granted unless one of them can prove adultery, physical abuse, desertion or addiction.

"I've had several women call me over the past year and ask me what to do, and there's nothing for them to do," she said. "All I can tell them to do is call an attorney and do what they say."

Mrs. Grace-Parker still lives in North Augusta and runs Karyn Grace Salon in Martinez. She remarried last month and has two stepchildren.

"There is laughter in our lives, but there is great sadness also," she said.

Mrs. Grace-Parker said she struggles every day with what happened to her boys. She believes that were it not so difficult to get a divorce in the Palmetto State, she might not have been forced to stay with Mr. Young through 2005 - giving him time to grow more and more enraged at her.

She might not have had to leave her house - moving in with her brother-in-law and his wife - to start the one-year clock ticking, and the boys might not have been left alone with their mentally unstable father.

In court filings, she had alleged Mr. Young was addicted to diet pills, behaving erratically and threatening to hurt her, but an Aiken County Family Court judge threw out her request for a legal separation because they were still living together.

Almost a year later, when she went back to court to end the marriage, another judge granted Mr. Young weekend visitation. He killed the boys the following Sunday.

"If we'd ever gotten to a judge that would have listened to us, Terry wouldn't have stood a chance of being with the children without supervision," Mrs. Grace-Parker said.

Last year, with the help of state Rep. Don Smith, R-North Augusta, she pushed for legislation making "mental cruelty" grounds for divorce, but a House subcommittee said they'd take the matter up next year. Committee members also expressed uneasiness about making divorce easier and the difficulty of proving mental cruelty.

Mr. Smith said he and Mrs. Grace-Parker plan to adjust their strategy next year, likely by asking for the one-year separation time to be reduced.

"I'm definitely not going to give up on what I started," she said. "I think they thought I'd go away, but I'm not."

Reach Johnny Edwards at (706) 823-3225 or johnny.edwards@augustachronicle.com.


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