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Smile Network International founder Kim Valentini gave a moving keynote speech about empowerment Friday to TeamWomenMN during which she talked about crippling depression brought on by the breakup of her union with attorney David Valentini, the father of their two children, and alluded to shocking elements of the relationship's demise.

I didn't know the story until Monday, when I went to Hennepin County Family Court to check on whether divorce papers had been filed.

There was no divorce. According to Hennepin County documents, filed under her maiden name, Kim Rakos, the power couple, fixtures at charity events, were never married. Even though they flew the late Rev. Paul Youngdahl, of Mount Olivet Lutheran Church in Minneapolis, to Italy to officiate a ceremony before family members and friends July 1, 1999. Before this elaborate ceremony, Rakos' lawsuit claims she thought they had a common law marriage, so she was surprised when Valentini asked her to get married in 1998. "Unlike Rakos, Valentini as a lawyer, knew that Minnesota does not recognize common law marriages," states the lawsuit.

"We had a service in Italy," Valentini told me Monday. "We had to file something here to make it legal in the United States; we never did that. That being said, I thought our estate was settled a long time ago, two years ago. Trust me, this hit me out of left field. We split everything equally. It's not a divorce because we're not technically married but I mean, I treat my wife as my equal."

Yes, David and Kim still refer to each other as if they were married.

The lawsuit Rakos filed against Valentini in February contains a host of allegations, some of which are unseemly. She alleges that he forged her name on checks addressed to her and deposited them in his law firm's account.

"C.J., that never happened once," Valentini said of the allegation that resulted in his firm, Valentini Law, also being a named defendant.

Another allegation of financial impropriety in the lawsuit states: "Valentini would identify an investment and solicit funds from Rakos under the auspices of equal contribution between Rakos and Valentini. Often these investments would be made only in the name of Valentini, and Rakos would continue to be unable to obtain any information without Valentini's cooperation. Rakos was never provided with a ledger or any other account of the parties' investments, but rather relied upon Valentini's representation to her and to their accountant regarding the status of their investment portfolio."

Valentini told me: "You can believe what you want. I'm telling you I'm putting together the financial records. Everything will be accounted for; it's a huge accounting thing that I'm putting together. I'm in the process of doing that."

When I told him how taken aback I was by these allegations, Valentini said, "I don't think you should be taken aback. You should keep an open mind."

I asked Valentini's attorney Vince Louwagie why Rakos would make these allegations. "David says these things are all not true. Why she is doing it? Who knows, except it's obviously an attempt to embarrass him and hurt his career. She's obviously upset about the breakup of their relationship."

Louwagie referred me to Valentini's answer and counterclaim to Rakos' lawsuit.

Those documents dispute many of the claims in Rakos' suit and level some claims at her. For example, Valentini's response said he has continued to pay the mortgage and other expenses on their residence "more than two years [after] David was removed from the home by a frivolous [order for protection]."

Valentini's claim also said Rakos threatened to "publicly embarrass" him and "Kimberly made false statements about David to third parties, including their friends, family members and Valentini Law firm staff."

And yet, I didn't understand what Rakos was talking about during her speech until I read these legal papers.

"I'm growing older and like many of you, I've experienced major life changes," Rakos told the audience at former Gophers coach Pam Borton's sold-out TeamWomenMN event held at Golden Valley Country Club. "Notably my children are grown and have left home for college and sadly my husband and I went through a very challenging separation. The split was so challenging and unforeseen that there were days when I wasn't sure I was going to survive."

Perhaps as a way of making her connection even deeper with the children whose lives and smiles she has changed, Rakos said, "Finally one night in a moment of clarity I understood. The universe wanted me to know what it felt like to be dismissed, abandoned, rejected at its deepest level. OK, about now you might be picking up your program and saying, 'Wasn't this a keynote about empowerment?' " The audience of more than 300 people laughed.

"It is — let me explain. As a woman, oftentimes our experiences and our stories contain the answers to each other's questions. What I cannot find searching through the rubble, I may find in the witnessing of other lives."

She referenced the mother who left her village rather than leave her child with a cleft palate out in a field to die, and the boy who journeyed hours down a mountain with mangoes for doctors when he heard about the surgeries being performed.

She encouraged members of the audience to believe they "can make it to the other side of my own darkness. We all know someone who's suffering, someone who has less."

C.J. can be reached at cj@startribune.com and seen on Fox 9 's "Buzz." E-mailers, please state a subject; "Hello" does not count. Attachments are not opened.