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Largest Divorce Verdict in U.S. History


We thought Michael Jordan's divorce from wife Juanita was going to make history as the most expensive at a reported pending $150 million settlement, but the Polsky divorce in Cook County, Illinois has just topped that by $34 million.

On June 4, Cook County Circuit Judge William Boyd, who had previously awarded Maya Polsky a divorce settlement of $176 million from her energy industry magnate husband Michael Polsky, announced that he had reconsidered his ruling. Boyd raised the settlement amount to a whopping $184 million. Michael Polsky has got to be steamed over this new ruling, because his attorneys had asked Judge Boyd to reconsider his prior ruling and reduce the award but instead he added $8 million. If this ruling stands it will be the largest divorce verdict in U.S. history.

Celebrity divorce settlements are commonly large, and sometimes larger if the marriage sustained for longer than a few years. The Michael and Juanita Jordan divorce is not the only instance in which the spouse of a celebrity has walked away with millions. Steven Spielberg, who split from wife Amy Irving in 1989, paid her a reported $100 million in their divorce settlement. Irving successfully contested their pre-nuptial agreement because it was reportedly scribbled on a napkin without the advice of an attorney. Neil Diamond and Marcia Murphey divorced in 1994 after 25 years of marriage. Diamond paid Murphey a reported $150 million in their divorce settlement and is quoted as saying she's "worth every penny". Obviously not everyone feels that way about his or her ex-spouse.

The Polskys are not celebrities. They were married in 1975 in the then Soviet Union, and shortly thereafter emigrated to the U.S. with four suitcases and about $500 to their names. Mrs. Polsky was pregnant with their first child when they arrived in the states. The couple separated in 2002 and in 2003 Mrs. Polsky filed for divorce citing irreconcilable differences.

As an engineer, Mr. Polsky made his fortune in the energy business and currently heads Invenergy LLC. Mrs. Polsky stayed at home and cared for the couple's two sons during the marriage and several years ago opened the Maya Polsky Gallery.

Maya Polsky's lawyer, Howard Rosenfeld, says that the settlement is fair because it is an even distribution of the couple's assets and that as a wife Mrs. Polsky provided emotional support for her husband and was his confidante. He had asked the judge to award Mrs. Polsky more than 50% of the estate because of Mr. Polsky's ability to continue earning more money in the future, but is happy with the 50/50 split.

Michael Polsky's attorney argues that the settlement is grossly unfair because Maya Polsky was not a driving force in the business and did nothing to help develop it and build the wealth that Mr. Polsky accumulated during the marriage.

The award is groundbreaking and remarkable not only because of the huge amount of the award, but also because it clearly sends the message that marriage is a partnership. Mega-million dollar estates are not commonly split evenly between the wealth building spouse and the homemaker.

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