It may have been the result of some crafty legal maneuvering by a Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz partner, or it may have simply been part of his tempestuous marriage to a “European Playmate” nearly 30 years his junior.
Whatever the reason, the now-retired partner has thwarted a second bid by his ex-wife to invalidate a prenuptial agreement and collect a share of the $1 million-plus in annual retirement payments that he receives from the firm.
The Appellate Court of Connecticut, in a decision released on Thursday, affirmed a divorce judgment between retired Wachtell partner Peter McKenna, now 72, and Roberta Delente, a one-time model from Brazil who was working for an agency called “European Playmates” when the couple met in 1997. She was 32 at the time.
The divorce judgment left Delente, from whom McKenna sought a divorce less than a year after their wedding in August 1999, with virtually nothing from the marriage. Delente has since changed her name to Katherine Copperfield. When the lower court issued the divorce judgment in 2007, Delente held U.S. permanent-resident status.
The appeals court determined that despite case law that invalidates prenuptial agreements with regard to certain kinds retirement benefits, the couple reaffirmed the agreement after they were married, creating an enforceable contract.
The agreement that McKenna and Delente struck before they were married provided that an “operative event” would trigger a distribution of assets depending on how long they had been together. McKenna, who was a commercial litigator and a mergers-and-acquisitions attorney at Wachtell, had to pay Delente $50,000 if the marriage ended before their first anniversary and $100,000 if that happened following their first anniversary but before the second. The maximum payout was $800,000, payable following a seventh year of marriage. Delente was not entitled to a portion of McKenna’s retirement income. The only marital property was a home at 1 Stallion Trail in Greenwich, Conn.
Less than a month after they were married, McKenna sought to annul the marriage, creating an “operative event,” under the agreement. According to the trial court decision, the couple was married during a morning civil service in New York. “If the husband’s testimony is to be fully credited, this marriage did not last beyond lunch,” the trial court judge wrote.
Following McKenna’s initial declaration of an operative event, the parties reconciled. They then modified the prenuptial agreement to reflect the reconciliation and voided McKenna’s previous demand for an annulment as an “operative event.”
McKenna retired from Wachtell in 1991, although he had reduced his workload in 1988 because of a number of medical conditions, according to the trial court decision. In 2006, his retirement income from the firm was $1.58 million. In 2005, it was $1.1 million. His retirement pay is calculated according to a percentage of Wachtell’s earnings — a figure that was not enumerated in immediately available court papers. His marriage to Delente was his third and at least her fourth, court papers indicated.
Despite attempts to reconcile, three days before their first anniversary McKenna sent Delente a second notice of an operative event, declaring that he wanted to dissolve the marriage.
Among the numerous claims Delente asserted in her appeal was that the lower court erred when it failed to award her a part of McKenna’s pension. Because the plan was subject to the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), she argued, her waiver of those benefits was invalid.
The appeals court agreed that federal case law disfavors prenuptial agreements regarding ERISA-regulated pension plans. However, the court ruled that when she waived her rights to the plan, it was not part of a prenuptial agreement. When the couple voided McKenna’s original “operative event” a month into the marriage and reaffirmed the other provisions in the agreement, the court said, they operated from that point on under postnuptial agreement.
“The defendant, therefore, waived her rights to the plaintiff’s pension plan benefits both before, during and after the course of their marriage,” Judge David Borden wrote. He noted that most courts have invalidated waivers of pension benefits in premarital agreements only when a surviving spouse seeks an interest in a deceased spouse’s benefits.
Taylor & Fedor attorney Laurel Fedor, who represented Delente, insisted that her client’s purported waiver of rights to the pension plan was not valid. Fedor, who practices in Westport, Conn., said that Delente was considering her next step.
Norman Roberts, a lawyer with Marvin, Ferro, Barndollar & Roberts in New Canaan, Conn., represented McKenna. He said the trial court had specifically determined that his client’s pension plan was not subject to ERISA regulations. Attempts to reach McKenna were unsuccessful.
Other judges on the appeals panel were Lubbie Harper and Bethany Alvord.
Leigh Jones can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.