Sunday, January 21, 2007

Amid a bitter divorce, a wall goes up in Brooklyn couple's house

NEW YORK (AP) - Like two Cold War adversaries, Chana and Simon Taub are separated by a wall - one that was built straight down the middle of their home to keep the bickering spouses apart.

Neither one wanted to move out of their beloved Brooklyn house and so - in one of the strangest divorce battles the city has ever seen - a white drywall partition was erected a few weeks ago on orders from a judge.

The divorce case, which has been staggering through the courts for nearly two years, has been dubbed Brooklyn's "War of the Roses," after the 1989 movie starring Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner as a battling couple.

Aside from the wall, the Taub version of the story has some other farcical elements: Chana said her husband of more than 20 years has bugged her phones. Simon said his wife owns too many shoes.

It is not as if the Taubs have no place else to go. For one thing, they own a place two doors down. But for reasons that include stubbornness, spite and their love of the home, both insist on staying in this particular house in Borough Park.

"It's my house. And emotionally, in my age, I want to be in my house!" said Simon, 57, who was the one who requested the wall.

He calls his wife a gold-digger who is after his money.

Chana, 57, who claims her husband abused her, said she has as much right to stay as he does, if not more.

"I need a house to live in and money to live on!" she said.

"I worked very hard, like a horse, like a slave for him."

In New York City, with its soaring real estate prices, it is not unusual for couples to fight over a house or refuse to move out during divorce proceedings. Judges sometimes ask couples to set boundaries, such as letting a spouse have access to the study during a certain part of the day.

But an actual wall? That is a new one, said Barry Berkman, a New York divorce lawyer.

The wall divides the living room from the staircase on the bottom floor of the Taubs' richly decorated, wood-paneled three-storey house, whose market value has been put at US$923,000 by the city.

She has the top floor, where the bedrooms are situated, along with the kitchen on the second floor. He has the living room on the first floor and the dining room on the second floor. So they do not run into each other on the second floor, the door between the dining room and the kitchen is barricaded on both sides.

One of the couple's children is staying with Dad; three others are staying with Mom.

Chana said for two decades she put up with physical and mental abuse that grew more severe over the years. She said she had to flush the toilet after him and put on his socks and shoes for him. He became so violent by mid-2005 she filed for divorce, she said.

Simon denies ever laying a hand on Chana and insists he gave her a luxurious lifestyle. But he said his sweater manufacturing company went bankrupt in the late 1990s and he suffered a second heart attack in 2005 that only worsened their financial problems. He said she wants a divorce to squeeze what money he has left.

Chana said she does not want much from her husband, mainly just alimony, child support and a fair share of property.

In August 2005, a judge said Simon, whom Chana had forced out of the house, could move back in after building a wall. Chana appealed. An appeals court eventually allowed the wall, calling it a novel concept. The wall went up in December and Simon moved back in.

At one point during the transition, someone said Chana had 300 pairs of shoes trapped on Simon's side. Chana said that is a lie Simon cooked up to make her look like Imelda Marcos, a reference to the former Philippine first lady and her huge shoe collection.

"I am not interested in shoes," she said.

Simon retorted: "Maybe it was 299. I didn't count it."

Chana said since Simon has returned, he has been monitoring her via video cameras. Simon said the surveillance goes both ways and points to cameras on her side, though Chana insists she does not control those. Chana said Simon bugged her phones. Simon said that is crazy - he does not care to whom she talks.

Kimberly Flemke, a couples therapist in Philadelphia, said when spouses go so far as to refuse to leave a house while divorcing, it often means neither is ready to move on.

"It's clear that if they're going to go this length, there's still far too much connection," she said.

"I would hope they'd both go to therapy."

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