Who gets the house after ugly divorce battles?

Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes
Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes

42 West 12th Street

When news broke last month that Katie Holmes had filed to divorce Tom Cruise, the first round of speculation centered on what would happen to their daughter, Suri. But questions about TomKat’s real estate holdings were not far behind.

The celebrity couple, who were married in 2006, own extravagant homes in California, New York and Telluride, Colo. Their holdings include a 10,286-square-foot Beverly Hills estate with a tennis court, which they bought for $30.5 million, and an 8,100-square-foot brownstone at 42 West 12th Street in Manhattan. The pair paid $15.1 million for it in April 2009, according to public records.

Holmes vacated the brownstone early last month and rented an apartment in the Chelsea Mercantile at 252 Seventh Avenue. The actress is expected to get the couple’s 9,477-square-foot property in Montecito, Calif., according to the terms of the pair’s prenuptial agreement, some details of which have been leaked. At press time, it wasn’t clear who would get the Beverly Hills mansion or the Manhattan brownstone.

Holmes and Cruise are only the latest in a long line of high-profile couples facing the question of who gets which home when ending a marriage. Divvying up real estate is among the most contentious issues couples face in a divorce, said Manhattan divorce lawyer Nancy Chemtob.

“You can’t replace that piece of property that you love,” she said. “It’s your home.”

Not surprisingly, New York has played host to a slew of epic divorce battles over the years, with multimillion-dollar apartments and townhouses taking center stage.

And exclusive Manhattan co-ops — which are not only pricey, but selective — often result in the nastiest disputes, said matrimonial and family law attorney Ira Garr, who has represented high-profile clients such as Ivana Trump.

Apartments in high-end co-ops often represent “a high percentage of a person’s net worth,” Garr said. And homes like these are irreplaceable, especially for spouses who would likely not get co-op board approval on their own in a similar building, Garr said.

This month, The Real Deal looks at some of the most contentious past and present divorces, and who went home to what.


The Rybolovlevs and the Nazarbayevs

As The Real Deal has reported, money from the former Soviet republics has flooded into Manhattan real estate recently. And two high-profile divorce battles are currently playing out among those wealthy purchasers.

Russian billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev is one of them. He made headlines this year with his record-breaking $88 million purchase of Sandy Weill’s 15 Central Park West penthouse. The deal raised even more eyebrows when his wife, Elena, sued him in March, claiming that he bought the apartment to hide assets from her during their divorce proceedings.

The $88 million penthouse at 15 Central Park West.

The lawsuit also alleges that Dmitry used trusts to make other pricey purchases — buying a Palm Beach mansion, Maison de L’Amitie, for $95 million in 2008 from Donald Trump, for example, as well as an interest in a Monaco soccer club — to tie up his assets and keep the money from her. The case is ongoing.

Meanwhile, Kazakh millionaire Bolat Nazarbayev and his wife Maria are going through their own bitter real estate divorce battle. Bolat, the brother of the president of Kazakhstan, sued Maria and his step-son in April, alleging that they conspired to steal his 4,000-square-foot, $20 million apartment at the Plaza. The two tricked him into giving them power of attorney by presenting it to him as “being different from what it really was,” according to Bolat’s lawyer, New York–based attorney John Snyder.

Maria’s Brooklyn-based attorney, Russ Nazrisho, filed a response to the complaint last month, denying the majority of the allegations. And in a recent interview with the New York Post, Maria denied all of the allegations against her and her son, and said she and Bolat were still married and in love.

The unit is currently on the rental market, listed for $68,000 a month with Prudential Douglas Elliman’s Efraim Nasirov.


Simon and Chana Taub

From left: Simon Taub, the Taubs’ Borough Park brownstone on 49th Street and Chana Taub.

An epic six-year divorce battle between sweater mogul Simon Taub and his wife, Chana, came to a head in 2007, when the couple installed a court-ordered Sheetrock divider in their Borough Park brownstone after both refused to move out.

Simon Taub had renovated the 49th Street home — which has five bedrooms and two garages — in the 1980s, when the couple was first married. When Chana filed for divorce in 2005, both continued living in the home as they duked it out in court. The Daily News nicknamed the high-profile case “The War of the Roses,” in reference to the 1989 movie starring Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner.

The Taubs reportedly spent more on attorney and litigation fees than the house is worth, and nearly had to foreclose on the property.

In 2011, when a divorce settlement was finally reached, a judge ruled that the house must be sold and the profits split. Chana has filed several appeals, all of which have been struck down, according to Simon’s Manhattan-based attorney, Abe Konstam.

At press-time, the home had not yet been sold, according to Konstam. Neil Lovino, Chana’s attorney, was not available for comment.


Nicholas and Cordula Bartha

The site of Nicholas Bartha’s townhouse at 34 East 62nd Street after the explosion.

In July 2006, Dr. Nicholas Bartha famously committed suicide by blowing up his townhouse at 34 East 62nd Street, while in the midst of a messy divorce from wife Cordula.

The incident came after a court ordered that the house, which had been appraised at $5 million, be sold and that Cordula receive half of the proceeds. Needless to say, Nicholas — whose family purchased the house in 1980 for $395,000 — did not take the news well.

Garr, who represented Nicholas until shortly before the explosion, recalled that the doctor’s “work and his house were his whole life.”

After his death, Russian developer Janna Bullock purchased the vacant lot for $8.35 million, according to listings aggregator StreetEasy. She is planning a new-construction, $40 million townhouse there, according to listing broker Lisa Verdi of Sotheby’s International Realty.

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Construction on the new townhouse will begin once a buyer is found, Verdi said.

Cordula, who initiated the divorce in 2001, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.


Nelson and Tod Rockefeller

Left: Nelson Rockefeller, former governor of New York, and his first wife, Mary “Tod” Rockefeller.

In 1961, New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller and his wife, Mary “Tod” Rockefeller, sent shock waves through the city when they announced their separation. Their subsequent divorce, and the governor’s speedy second marriage to Margaretta “Happy” Murphy, is said to have doomed his later attempts to win the Republican presidential nomination. (He later served as U.S. vice president under Gerald Ford, however.)

Despite their scandalous divorce, Nelson and Tod didn’t stray far from one another. Tod kept the top two floors of the couple’s triplex at exclusive co-op 810 Fifth Avenue, while Nelson remained on the first floor.

The two had purchased the apartment in the 1930s, eventually expanding it into a 30-room triplex by buying the floors above and below. Nelson hired modern architect Wallace Harrison to renovate the apartment and commissioned avant-garde designer Jean-Michel Frank to fill the 47-foot-long oval living room with cutting-edge furniture and art, including murals by Matisse and Leger.

The Rockefeller apartment at 810 Fifth Avenue.

The governor reportedly considered the apartment home, so much so that he didn’t move out after his divorce. In the split, Tod received the top two floors — including a 1,200-square-foot wraparound terrace — and he kept the 12th floor, which contained the oval living room.

When Nelson and Happy were married, they stayed on the 12th floor and expanded it by purchasing an adjacent apartment in a new building going up next door, at 812 Fifth Avenue. A half-flight of indoor stairs was installed to bridge the gap between the two buildings.

After Nelson’s death in 1979, Happy separated the units and lived on the 812 Fifth side, selling the 810 Fifth apartment. The current owner has listed it for $27.5 million with Kirk Henckels of Stribling & Associates.

Henckels said the 810 Fifth spread has exceptional views. “It’s extremely rare to find a preeminent prewar co-op on Fifth with big picture windows over the park,” he said.

Tod died in 1999. Her duplex was sold to record executive David Geffen, and then to Blackstone Group founder Pete Peterson, who paid $37.5 million for it in 2007. At the time, it was the second most expensive co-op sale in New York City history.


Michael and Susan Bloomberg

From left: Mayor Michael Bloomberg, One Kenmare Square and Bloomberg’s ex-wife Susan

Unlike some other high-profile breakups, the 1993 divorce of New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and his wife, Susan, was amicable. So amicable, in fact, that when the pair split after 17 years of marriage, they both continued to live, with their daughters, in the family’s five-story limestone townhouse at 17 East 79th Street. Then, in 2002, the mayor built a four-bedroom Colonial farmhouse for his ex-wife on a 20-acre horse farm in Westchester County’s North Salem.

The entire Bloomberg clan, including the mayor’s longtime girlfriend, Diana Taylor, reportedly celebrates Thanksgiving together on the farm, called Gotham North.

Though Susan reportedly now lives primarily in North Salem, she also maintains a place in the city — with hizzoner’s help. In 2006, she purchased a five-bedroom apartment in the André Balazs–designed condo One Kenmare Square, then sold it in 2011 for $11.5 million. While she was waiting for the deal to close, however, her ex-husband reportedly gave her a bridge loan of $500,000 to buy a new downtown apartment, according to tax returns he released earlier this year.

The mayor has a history of generosity when it comes to ex-partners: He also gifted a Park Avenue apartment to girlfriend Mary Jane Salk when their relationship ended in 2000, according to news reports. He had bought the apartment earlier that year for $3.75 million.

The mayor, of course, has no shortage of real estate. He and Taylor live primarily in his Upper East Side townhouse, which he has expanded over the years by acquiring four of the six apartments in the building next door, at 19 East 79th Street. He reportedly owns a total of 11 real estate properties, including a Bermuda mansion and a home in Vail, Colo. And last year, he paid $20 million for a mansion at 119 Whites Lane in Shinnecock Hills in the Hamptons.


Bruce and Arlene Farkas

River House

Department store heir Bruce Farkas (uncle to real estate mogul Andrew Farkas) became a fixture in New York headlines in the mid-1990s when Bruce’s wife Arlene filed for divorce, claiming he was a bigamist. For over a decade, she said, Farkas — who had reportedly been her childhood sweetheart — had been illegally married to both her and his former secretary Dolores D’Oca. The double life was only uncovered, Arlene said, when his children with both women began attending the same Manhattan private school.

In 1996, a court awarded Arlene the couple’s $3.2 million apartment at the exclusive River House co-op at 435 East 52nd Street. But Bruce fought back, and the ensuing battle for rights to the apartment spanned 18 years, according to news reports.

In 2007, the State Court of Appeals granted Arlene permission to sell the 14-room co-op after the court rejected Bruce’s final challenge. Arlene then listed the unit for $15 million, though the price eventually dropped to $10.95 million. The unit, which has a paneled library and staff quarters, was taken off the market in 2010.


Donald and Ivana Trump

Donald Trump and Ivana Trump

Real estate mogul Donald Trump and his blonde bombshell wife, Ivana, were among the best-known couples of the 1980s. But Ivana, a former model who had three children with “the Donald,” filed for divorce in 1991, amid rumors that her husband was cheating with actress and socialite Marla Maples.

Ivana negotiated a settlement of approximately $20 million, according to Garr, who represented her in the divorce along with other attorneys. Donald also gave her a $10 million certified check soon after negotiations were completed, Garr said. That check was to be followed by another for $4 million once she moved out of the couple’s triplex apartment at Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue, where Donald still lives with his current wife, Melania.

Donald Trump’s primary residence at Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue.

Ivana was also reportedly awarded the couple’s $10 million estate in Greenwich, Conn. She also received an apartment at Trump Plaza on Third Avenue between 61st and 62nd streets, and access for one month a year to the Trump family’s 118-room Mar-a-Lago mansion in Palm Beach (not to be confused with Maison de L’Amitie, the Palm Beach mansion that the Donald recently bought, renovated and sold to Rybolovlev). The Trumps’ daughter, Ivanka, mentioned the Mar-a-Lago mansion in a 2007 interview with Marie Claire, saying her bathroom, one of 33 in the house, had been decorated with tiles hand-painted by Walt Disney. The residence has since been converted into a private club and resort.