Palm Beach power couple back in court to divide property empire

After a hiatus of more than three months, former Palm Beach power couple Burt and Lucille Handelsman — and their adult children — were back in divorce court Tuesday, fighting for their share of a fortune amassed during 67 years of marriage.

Circuit Judge Scott Suskauer granted Lucille’s petition for divorce in February, finding that the couple’s union was “irretrievably broken” after allegations of infidelity against her husband.

That left the difficult task of splitting up the couple’s estimated $550 million real-estate empire that includes posh shops along Worth Avenue in Palm Beach and restaurants and office buildings in Delray Beach and West Palm Beach. Properties in Tennessee and the New York are also being contested.

Palm Beach divorce to end 67-year marriage shakes up Worth Avenue empire

The divorce meant that Lucille, 89 and known as “Lovey,” was entitled to 50 percent of the accumulated wealth.

Disagreement over who should get what and how those assests should be valued had Burt Handelsman, 90, on the witness stand for around four hours Tuesday at the North County Courthouse.

The Handelsmans have agreed on who should get the majority of their companies and properties. Burt, for instance, will receive an estimated $4.5 million retail complex on East Atlantic Avenue in Delray Beach, while Lucille gets a similarly valued restaurant and shop in Key West.

But Richard Segal, Burt Handelsman’s attorney, said that 12 to 15 properties remain in dispute, several of which the two sides have valued millions of dollars apart.

Love’s Tee Time, a 900-acre property the couple owns in Roscoe, N.Y., is priced at $7 million, according to Burt. Lucille has agreed to give it to her ex-husband, but for $20.1 million.

For that price, “Mrs. Handelsman can have it,” Burt responded.

Segal said Handelsman’s testimony showed “that he’s a strong businessman and has been for decades in this community and New York.”

Jeff Fisher, representing the Handelsman children, and Joel Weissman, Lucille’s attorney, told the judge they planned on cross-examining Handelsman for up to six hours Wednesday.

“We’re going to show tomorrow that most of what he said today is contrived and inconsistent — as to value, ownership, control and what the right thing to do is,” Fisher said.

The Handelsmans’ feud includes their three grown children, who are majority owners of many of the family’s properties. Through their attorney, the siblings have said they do not want to be in business with their father.

Lucille Handelsman, who filed for divorce in 2016, alleging her husband had fallen in love with a Fort Lauderdale attorney, sat in a wheelchair with her children in the courtroom. The only contact between Burt Handelsman and his family Tuesday was brief and polite and took place shortly before the afternoon session began.

While the weighty manners over multimillion dollar properties took up much of Tuesday’s testimony, there was also discussion of relatively smaller matters, involving Burt’s collections of stamps, coins and shaving mugs.

At one point, Suskauer indicated frustration while asking the attorneys why the sides couldn’t agree on some of the more minor issues that divide them, telling Segal that the court’s time was being wasted.

“Mr. Handelsman would have loved to work out a lot of those issues,” Segal said. “It did not happen.”

Minutes into the hearing, Suskauer admonished Weissman for making “faces” in response to something Segal said. Suskauer has had to warn the lawyers about their behavior in previous hearings.

The case, which began Feb. 5, is expected to run until Friday.

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