Celebrity Lawyer Explains Billionaire’s Divorce
[Source: Bloomberg Law]
Celebrity lawyer Peter M. Walzer, who is ranked as a best family law attorney in California, explains the high net worth divorce of billionaire Israel Englander.
The wife of billionaire Israel “Izzy” Englander filed an explosive lawsuit against the millennial management chairman and then withdrew it the day after. In the suit, Carol Englander claimed that her husband of 48 years conducted a years long campaign of pressure and coercion against her and her girlfriend, having them followed nearly constantly hacking their emails and phones, and interfering with their family lives in order to get her to sign a postnuptial agreement.
Izzy Englander has a net worth of $11.5 billion according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. And his estranged wife says he got more than 95% of the value of their marital assets in the postnup.
On Friday, Carol Englander dropped the suit, which was filed by her and her girlfriend, Swiss art dealer Dominique Levy. A spokesperson for Englander, said it was dropped in an effort to resolve this as a family matter.
Joining me is top family law attorney Peter M. Walzer, the founding partner of Walzer Melcher Yoda, one of the best family law firms in California.
So Carol Englander is claiming that she signed the postnup under duress. Tell us a little about her allegations.
Well, it sounded like what we would call coercive control. In other words, a pattern of stalking, berating, threatening for having a relationship with her friend Dominique. And it sounded like according to Carol, there was a lot of pressure on her and it was a very unpleasant situation, I imagine for all of them after a very long marriage. I mean almost 50 years.
Do you know if there was a prenuptial agreement in this case?
I don’t know. And there’s been no report of that. So one would think considering the length of the marriage, probably no premarital agreement.
He allegedly got her to sign an agreement before they divorced.
Well, I don’t know that they’re even divorced.
There’s no indication that they actually got divorced.
Tell me about postnups in general. Do a lot of couples have postnups? Is it unusual?
No. I mean, I’ve been doing this over 40 years and I’ve done literally hundreds of, we call them premarital agreements, and I’ve done probably five to 10 postmarital agreements that actually got signed. Now, people come in and they want them, but they often lead to a divorce. Basically they’re harder than prenups and the standards are a lot different than prenups.
What are the standards?
For example, for prenup, no consideration is required. Consideration means something bargained for in exchange, or if you give me this, I’ll give you that. Whereas in a post marital agreement, there is a requirement of consideration. Somebody’s got to get something for what they’re giving up.
And in this case, if Carol was giving up half the marital estate, which could be 5 billion dollars, she would have to get something in exchange for that. It doesn’t have to be equal, but there has to be consideration for it.
Next, where people in a premarital agreement do not have a fiduciary duty to one another, in a post-marital agreement, they have a fiduciary duty, which means a lot stronger scrutiny of the agreement for fairness and so on.
So in addition, in a premarital agreement, you can waive the disclosure beyond what’s provided. But in a postmarital agreement, you can’t waive the disclosure. There’s got to be a full disclosure to both people signing the agreement.
In this case, she claims that he didn’t disclose the extent of their marital assets.
Right. She made all the necessary claims, duress, perhaps fraud, all those required claims.
But the problem with that is we don’t know the details, but you could imagine she had an attorney review it, she signed the agreement. The agreement, like most agreements between spouses state, there was no duress, there was no fraud. She had adequate time to review the agreement. And so on and so forth.
So once she does that and the agreement’s notarized, it’s hard to say that you didn’t know what you were doing or you were pressured into saying anything. It’s different, occasionally you get these agreements, the spouses signed between each other on a piece of paper.
That’s not what we’re talking about. We’re talking about wealthy people who had attorneys who reviewed it, who made the decision.
She says that he got most of the marital assets, but he’s worth 11 and a half billion. And if she got 5%, that’s still a lot of money to most people.
I was doing the numbers like that too, and I thought, that’s not bad. I think I could live on 500 million. I don’t know. I don’t know. I might have to budget on the food, but otherwise I’d be fine.
Let’s just say that this goes forward. How would a judge decide whether or not there was duress, whether or not this passed the test for a postnup?
Well, there’s a great New York case called Hershkowitz versus Levy. You could Google and it lays out the standards. And in this 2021 case, which is recent in terms of the law, talks about a postnup between a self-represented attorney and his wife.
And they agreed that after 2013, everything they had would be separate. And then the husband comes along and tries to set aside the post marital agreement. I guess wife did better than him in the marriage. And he said it was unconscionable and there was duress and she didn’t give him enough time to sign it.
And it really lays out the law for post marital agreements. And the case says, an agreement between spouses, which is fair on its face, will be enforced according to its terms.
Unless there’s proof of unconscionability or fraud, duress, overreaching or other conduct. Unconscionability means shocking to the conscience. It’s just not… Unfair. So New York’s really laid out the law for postnups in a nice way in this case. So the person trying to set aside initially has the burden to show it was unfair.
So now we find out that just a day after filing this, she withdrew it. So what do you make of that?
Well, when there’s that much money, a deal can always be struck. It’s not like money is the issue. And she probably didn’t have much of a case except bad publicity.
When you’re in your seventies, you probably don’t need bad publicity. Neither of them did. And so a deal could be struck. Now, we don’t know if a deal was struck, but somebody said, Hey, let’s talk about it. We could work something out. With that kind of money, maybe all she wanted was another half a billion dollars.
I mean, really, you got to look what causes these lawsuits between anybody, but especially wealthy people. It’s not the money. It’s hurt feelings, it’s anger, it’s resentment. And if people can sit down and talk, they can make a deal. Now, she made a deal already, but she obviously wanted more and he has more to give.
What’s he going to do with it? That kind of money’s not going to make anybody’s life different. Now, she could have reacted differently and been angry and said, as a matter of principal, I’m not going to talk to you ever again. I’ll see you in court. But that’s time consuming. And even though expense is not an issue, it’s expensive, but mainly it’s aggravating and emotionally disturbing. So at their age, they’re both in their seventies. Neither of them need that kind of stress. So they did the smart thing, withdraw it and work out a deal.