BY MICHAEL VOLPE
A housewife has been ordered to pay her executive ex-husband, who has an annual salary in the high six figures, $300,000 in an “equitable” distribution in their divorce.
That was the ruling by 9th Judicial District Judge Robert Berliner in handing down a divorce decree between Deborah Goodman and Andreas Lempa.
Goodman gained notoriety after she wrote a letter in the Rockland County Times in 2015 in which she described frustrations in her divorce which had dragged on since 2010, largely because of the alleged irrational rulings of recently retired Judge Victor Alfieri, who failed to schedule a trial and even forced Goodman to start the case over again several years into the process.
Shortly after her letter was published, Alfieri recused himself from the case and the case was reassigned back to Judge Berliner, who had actually been involved at the start of the divorce in 2010. However, Judge Berliner was moved to Westchester County and the case was assigned to Judge Alfieri. Judge Berliner scheduled a trial for the following Spring. While the trial was held in March of 2016, his decision wasn’t made until nearly a year later, even though the decision only numbered 11 pages.
“In November 2016, I reached out to the court after being notified by Ellen Holtzman (her ex-husband’s attorney) via e-mail that Philip Morris International, my spouse’s employer, would be switching my children and I from the domestic health insurance plan we had been on for years, as well as during trial, to an international health insurance plan as of January 1, 2017, due to the fact that my spouse chooses to live overseas. My procedural question to the court, since I am pro-se, was should we have an emergency court conference or do I file a motion to address this issue, since the Judge had not rendered his decision from the March 2016 trial yet?” Goodman said.
But by the end of December 2016, a decision had still not been reached, as a result, Goodman believes a decision was put together haphazardly. “It is my opinion that they rushed the decision due to the health insurance issue. I feel my case would have remained sitting undecided if the health insurance issue hadn’t come up.”
Goodman said she wasn’t sure the Judge examined all the evidence carefully.
A phone call to Judge Berliner’s chambers was left unreturned.
An email to Arlene Hackel, a public affairs officer with the New York Court System, was also left unreturned.
Lempa’s attorney provided account statements which included an investment account showing only approximately $2,000 in it. But during Lempa’s deposition, he admitted to moving hundreds of thousands of dollars through the account. Goodman said she wasn’t sure if the Judge read the deposition and only held Lempa to account for the $2,000.
Berliner ordered that Goodman account full for a bank account holding approximately $100,000 when the divorce started in 2010. She said the account is now nearly empty. Because Berliner ordered a 50/50 split, Goodman is responsible to pay half of what was in that account 7 years ago to her ex-husband.
Goodman also said she had approximately $100,000 saved before she married Lempa and this should not have been included in the assets to be split up, but Berliner never credited her this $100,000 as her separate property.
Though Goodman is a stay at home mom and Lempa works as a manager at Phillip Morris making in the high six figures, Berliner’s decision awarded her no spousal support, only child support for the two children of the marriage.
According to Berliner’s decision, Goodman didn’t ask for spousal support, referred to as maintenance: “There is no claim for maintenance by the plaintiff.”
Goodman remembered it differently, saying she wouldn’t need maintenance if the decision was made based on her terms where she expected marital property to be split up equitably.
“Plaintiff believes that if the property is allocated as set forth herein, and child support is set forth herein, no maintenance should be necessary,” Goodman said in her statement for proposed disposition.
But in her closing arguments, Goodman did ask for maintenance if the decision was drastically different than what she asked: “If the division proposed by the Defendant were to be adopted by the Court, I would be in need of additional support.”
While her ex-husband asked for a 70/30 split in his favor and the court ordered a 50/50 split, nearly everything else in the divorce mirrored her ex-husband’s terms. Goodman said shortly after the decision was made, her ex-husband’s attorney began asking her for the money owed.
Though the former couple has two children, the decision made no mention of final custody.
While Goodman maintains physical custody of their two children and her ex-husband has been living abroad since even before the divorce began -and as a result has no relationship with the children- she was not officially granted sole legal and physical custody.
In fact, their custody arrangement, initially put in place by Judge Berliner on a temporary basis in 2010, and it has not been changed or finalized since.
Without sole legal and physical custody, Goodman’s ex-husband can veto any major decision: including medical decisions, changing schools, and moving to another area.
He can also more easily reduce child support.
Goodman believes the court ruling was done to punish her for speaking out: “I’m being punished for being a whistleblower.”
Ellen Holtzman, Lempa’s attorney’s, declined to comment for this story, saying the case was still unfolding.
While the divorce was finalized in the decision, Goodman plans to appeal.