After a 20-year-long marriage, a Wall Street real estate investment banker found his claims about his ex-wife’s contributions to their marriage rebutted by an unexpected witness – himself. Paul Perkins, 61, and his now ex-wife Vibeke Steineger, 67, married in 1989 and had two children together. Steineger is a beauty queen who was crowned Miss Norway 1970, but appears to have spent the marriage as a socialite and stay-at-home mom.
The marriage ran aground in 2009, culminating in a heated fight on the sales floor at Bloomingdale’s.
The two maintained what Steineger describes as an amicable estrangement until 2012, when she learned that Perkins had started a new relationship with a girlfriend. She filed for divorce in New York Supreme Court, kicking off a round of negotiations that seems to have put an end to any goodwill between the parties.
Initially, Perkins offered Steineger a $2M settlement from the couple’s $13M estate. Their property includes a Park Avenue Apartment, a huge collections of antiques, and even original paintings by Picasso and Matisse. Steineger and her legal team rejected the $2M offer, which brought Perkins and his legal team back to the table with a $3M offer.
Once again, Steineger rejected the low-ball offer, sending the couple into a divorce trial that kicked off in 2013.
By the time the parties were litigating their issues, Perkins had developed some novel arguments to air in front of Judge Deborah Kaplan. First, there were pre- and post-nuptial agreements that he wanted enforced, but Kaplan found they had been improperly processed and excluded them. At that point, Perkins began making a series of claims about Steineger’s lifestyle, behavior, and contributions to their marriage.
In a whopping 170-page report on the action, delivered in 2015, Judge Louis Crespo wrote, “Perkins maintains that his wife did not contribute in any way to his success or business during course of the marriage and that she was a ‘narcissist’ and ‘manipulator’.
He claims she ‘duped him’ into marriage and having kids and ‘could not think of anything else’ she contributed other than parenting.” Perkins additionally claimed that Steineger wasn’t particularly good as a mother, citing attendance records from the elite private schools the children attended, and where they were frequently dropped off late.
Steineger responded by introducing documents that showed that Perkins was an absentee husband and father who had spent his free time on golf courses, with nearly 50 visits to the historic Sleepy Hollow Country Club in Scarborough, New York, over a two year period. But then the real bombshell was dropped. Steineger’s attorneys presented the court with a 2007 video of a toast that Perkins made at his wife’s 60th Birthday Party.
Perkins, whose testimony had painted a harsh and unforgiving portrait of his wife, had a vastly different take that day. Describing her as a, “graceful, tender, and warm person,” he called her, “the love of my life for 20 years.”
While Perkins went on to claim that his remarks that day were insincere and that he felt pressured to give the assembled guests a glowing statement about his wife, Judge Crespo was unpersuaded. “In fact,” Crespo wrote in the court report, “the plaintiff appeared to have been a good wife, parent and friend as so amply amplified by the defendant at a toast for his wife’s 60th Birthday Party in November 2007.”
It remains for Judge Kaplan to sign off on Crespo’s recommendations, but the final settlement will likely be a $6M award for Steineger, along with a $6,686 monthly payout in maintenance. She asked for $20,000, which the court felt was excessive. Perkins sought a monthly support payment of zero dollars.
It’s curious what the “improper processing” of the pre- and post-nuptial agreements in this case might constitute. The rules governing such contracts are well established, but it is possible for a spouse to attack such agreements on a variety of grounds.
If each party did not have independent representation, or there was any indication of duress in the signing, or even if the agreements were simply too one-sided, it is possible to have a judge rule that a pre- or post-nuptial agreement doesn’t apply. This is just one of the many reasons why it’s so vital to work with experienced counsel in matters like these to make sure that the document you sign works for your best interest, and will be enforceable in court.
In terms of the video evidence from the birthday party, the issue likely isn’t that Perkins’s feelings had changed in the years since his marriage broke up, but that the toast he gave in happier times was so diametrically at odds with the account he provided the court later.
If things had remained good between the two, they wouldn’t have been in divorce court at all, but since they were, the judge demanded and required a fair assessment of the issues between them. By creating what seems to have appeared to the court to be an unfair and excessively bitter set of attacks, Perkins found himself literally testifying against himself. That’s never a comfortable spot to be in.
Litigating a divorce is hugely expensive, and the vast majority of divorce cases are resolved by the parties, between themselves, in a relatively fair way. That’s the goal of New York’s matrimonial law, and a good divorce lawyer will be able to support your efforts to achieve an equitable outcome.
If your spouse is simply unwilling to come to the table with a fair offer, or if you believe that your spouse isn’t entitled to the type of offer they’re demanding, them it’s time for a team that can take your case to a judge.
At Zelenitz, Shapiro & D’Agostino, we protect our clients and fight for the best settlement outcome possible in every case. From drafting secure pre- and post-nuptial agreements to distribution of assets to child custody to post-judgment enforcement, our team is one of the most experienced you’ll find in Brooklyn. Call us today at 718-725-9601 for a free consultation with an experienced Brooklyn divorce lawyer.