When Mary Kay Letourneau was accused of having an illicit relationship with student Vili Fualaau, the story became an international scandal. Letourneau was sentenced to more than seven years in prison on charges of child rape in connection with their affair, which began when Fualaau was just 12 years old.
At the time, Letourneau was represented by David Gehrke, a high-profile attorney who got to know the now-married couple well — and has kept in touch with them for more than two headline-grabbing decades.
When Fualaau filed for separation from the 55-year-old Letourneau, the development didn’t shock Gehrke. “I’m not surprised that they got married,” Gehrke tells PEOPLE, “and I’m not surprised, in this day and age, that they are separating.”
Gehrke says that, beyond the tabloid headlines, there was something to the relationship. “I’m convinced they were totally in love,” he says. “But sometimes, people who are totally in love have trouble staying in love. They slowly drift apart. One day, you wake up and realize that things are different with your partner.”
“They loved each other,” he continues. “They were devoted to each other. They courted for 10 years and they were married for 10 years. Yes, he was a minor, but they had back-channel contact during the time they weren’t supposed to be speaking. Not as regularly as they would have otherwise, but they were in contact. This was a couple who was in love. They had children together, and they raised those children.”
But those children are no longer minors. Their youngest daughter is 18, meaning that Fualaau, 33, and Letourneau, 55, are empty nesters. And the marriage fell apart.
Gehrke will appear on an upcoming episode of Scandal Made Me Famous on the Reelz Channel to discuss the case — and the show will address the shocking split.
“Vili was the one who filed a petition for separation, which is usually a precursor for filing for divorce,” says Gehrke. “It gives legal notice to creditors and the like that the debts won’t be joint. She could try to contest it, but that’s legally tough to do.”
And what does the future hold for the couple? No one knows. “If one spouse files for separation, there are opportunities to work out their differences through things like counseling,” says Gehrke. “But they may also just move on with their lives.”