In a bizarre case of late-in-life marital breakdown, the 87-year-old wife of an 88-year-old real estate mogul has filed for divorce in Palm Beach, Florida.
Burton and Lucille Handelsman have been married for 67 years, and have built a fortune in commercial real estate in Palm Beach, Key West, Nashville, Greenwich, Connecticut, and New York City.
The couple split their time between Palm Beach and their six bedroom, 4,000 square foot home in White Plains, New York.
According to court filings, Lucille, known as “Lovey” to her friends, began to suspect that her husband was cheating on her back in 2008. During a cruise the couple took together, she returned to their stateroom and overheard Burt on the phone with his real estate attorney, Jane Rankin.
Lovey recalls that Burt told the woman how much he loved her and that he missed her terribly.
Lovey says that she and Burt haven’t had sex since, despite continuing to share a bed in their Palm Beach condo. “We have a very big bed,” she is reported to have said. “I haven’t touched him in that bed.”
The Handelsmans are well known in their Palm Beach community, owning most of the commercial real estate on and around tony Worth Avenue, and acting as landlords to some of the most exclusive stores in the world, including Cardin, Cartier, Ralph Lauren, and Chanel.
Known locally as “The Mayor of Worth Avenue,” Burt’s companies own more Palm Beach property than both radio personality Rush Limbaugh and real estate developer-turned-politician Donald Trump.
They own a huge portfolio of multi-million dollar properties up and down the east coast, though Lovey’s court filing notes that they began their married life – well over half a century ago – in much more modest circumstances.
Lovey has significant mobility issues because of arthritis and uses a walker or wheelchair to get around.
The three-bedroom condo they reside in, in the second story of one of their Worth Avenue buildings, has been retrofitted to accommodate the chair, but according to Burt’s response to the divorce filing, he is her primary caregiver and handles cooking, cleaning, helps Lovey dress, and helps her to and from the bathroom.
He asserts that the marriage isn’t broken at all and he doesn’t want the divorce.
Still, Lovey has decided that it’s either her or the other woman, and she’s tired of waiting for Burt to choose.
According to court documents, Lovey came home unexpectedly one day recently and found Jane Rankin leaving the couple’s condo while Burt was home. Rankin used the private access code for the elevator to their residence, even though Lovey didn’t know that Rankin knew the code.
Angry over the ongoing and apparently open infidelity, she explained in her filings, “I hoped against hope that something would happen where he would come to say to me, ‘Okay, I’m finished with Jane, let’s start over again.’ Never happened.”
For her part, Jane Rankin calls claims of a romantic relationship with Burt “ridiculous,” and Burt insists that Lovey doesn’t fully understand the ramifications of her actions right now.
This could be because he’s still putting together his financial disclosures, with the couple’s fortune estimated to exceed $500 million. Lovey claims that Burt has been hiding property since she filed in March.
She’s asked for temporary maintenance to see her through the divorce and asked the judge for sole occupancy of their condo, valued at $750,000. Burt fought this move for two months, insisting that he had a right to stay in his home, which doubles as the headquarters for his business.
Burt’s temper is as legendary in Palm Beach as the man himself, and as the relationship has eroded, Lovey claims that he’s become mean-spirited, rude, and disrespectful towards her.
She pleaded with the judge to make the order on the condo to avoid the vitriol of continuing to live with Burt, and eventually Judge Scott Suskauer agreed.
Even though there is no history of physical violence, Burt was ordered out of the 2,000 square foot, three bedroom condo. And he isn’t likely to get happier anytime soon.
Because of the length of the marriage, Lovey has a real shot at winning half of the couple’s estate, leaving what looked like a successful marriage free and clear, with $250 million or more.
During their 67-year-long marriage, the couple raised three children and built a thriving real estate empire in one of the most beautiful, and expensive, places in America.
It’s hard to imagine reaching the tender age of 87 and deciding that your lifelong partnership with your spouse has spoiled to the point that it should end.
It’ll be interesting to see whether the case continues or the parties are able to reconcile and give it another try. There’s no word on whether Lovey wants the White Plains mansion, or how the businesses could be divided in the settlement.
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