Globe and Mail

Perelman v. Duff: A divorce of the vanities

The billionaire and the key political fundraiser are locked in a nasty separation that has lasted longer than their marriage and left others shocked and appalled.

LARRY McSHANE, Associated Press
The Globe and Mail
Thursday, August 19, 1999

New York -- The marriage lasted just 20 months, but the divorce case is nearing its third anniversary with no amicable end in sight.

Ron Perelman v. Patricia Duff is a fight freighted with so much excess that even other wealthy New Yorkers are appalled -- and entranced -- by its many vanities.

Ms. Duff, a major fundraiser for the U.S. Democratic Party, so far has run through 20 lawyers and $3-million (U.S.) in fees. But when the target is worth $6-billion, why scrimp?

The case now focuses on custody of 4-year-old daughter Caleigh. Although both parents profess to want the best for their child, the trial judge has seen otherwise.

"We have two very rich, two very willful people locked in a dispute which I'm absolutely certain is causing severe damage to Caleigh," Judge Franklin Weissberg complained last week. "The two have been too focused on attacking, torturing and slandering each other."

Such acrimony seemed impossible when the power couple first locked eyes at a charity ball in 1992. The attraction was instant.

They'd both been down this aisle before, with five failed marriages between them. Mr. Perelman, 56, left each union with a little less cash -- $80-million poorer after his second divorce -- while Ms. Duff invariably prospered.

Her net worth after divorce No. 3 was in the area of $30-million.

Descriptions of Ms. Duff, who raised money for President Bill Clinton's campaign, inevitably focus on her looks, and are inevitably flattering.

Descriptions of Mr. Perelman inevitably focus on his money: He is the chairman and chief executive officer of McAndrews & Forbes Holdings Inc., through which he owns the Revlon cosmetics company. He travels by private plane, private helicopter, private yacht. He's dropped $1-million on legal bills fighting Ms. Duff.

Noted divorce attorney Raoul Felder, when asked about the case, said: "It goes on because they have the money to fuel it."

In one of the trial's more petty episodes, Mr. Perelman, a Jew, accused his wife of sacrilege: Letting their daughter join an Easter egg hunt during Passover.

Another time, testimony was interrupted by this objection: "Your honour, if Mr. Perelman can stop smirking and laughing, I would appreciate it."

Snapped Mr. Perelman's lawyer: "My client is not smirking and laughing."

The divorce case, launched in September, 1996, seemed simple. There was a prenuptial agreement; under it, Ms. Duff receives $125,000 a month in alimony and $12,000 a month in child support.

Now Ms. Duff, 45, wants child support bumped to $100,000 a month, allowing Caleigh to live in the same style with her mother as she does with her father.

The hard feelings escalated when both sides decided they wanted full custody of Caleigh, who was born one month before her parents' January, 1995, wedding. She was Ms. Duff's first child and Mr. Perelman's sixth.

Ms. Duff moved last year to open the trial to the public. The public then learned probably too much:

Ms. Duff portrayed her former husband as an absentee father.

A court psychiatrist testified that Ms. Duff was "paranoid" and "narcissistic." The psychiatrist added that Mr. Perelman needs long-term therapy to control his volcanic temper.

Mr. Perelman testified that when Caleigh is with him, she eats about "$3 a day" in food.

The couple has squabbled over whether their daughter can receive riding lessons, where she should attend summer camp and whether her afternoon nap should be cut short for private schooling.

Despite their failed relationships, neither combatant has given up on love. Ms. Duff was recently linked with Sen. Robert Torricelli, a Democrat from New Jersey, while Mr. Perelman has been spotted with actress Ellen Barkin.

Lost in the muddle is Caleigh. "In one way she is very blessed to have wealthy parents," Judge Weissberg said. "But in another way she is unlucky, because no child should have to go through this."

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