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In one of the most costly and hard-fought custody battles in Connecticut family court history, Guilford cosmeceutical magnate Nicholas V. Perricone only started winning the moment he stopped fighting. In a strongly worded opinion, New Haven Complex Litigation Docket Judge Lynda B. Munro recently declined to follow either the joint custody recommendation of the court-appointed psychiatrist or Munro’s own joint custody order of 11 months earlier. Instead, invoking her judicial duty to rule in the best interests of the child — the couple’s 7-year-old daughter — Munro awarded the husband sole legal custody. Multimillionaire Perricone — a nationally known skin doctor, best-selling health writer and anti-aging guru — successfully markets wrinkle creams for as much as $570 for a 2-ounce bottle. The small army of lawyers and experts for the warring parents may be paid with Perricone’s money, but it’s his wrinkle cream that they may end up needing before the case is over. Madeline Perricone’s pendente lite award for legal fees and costs was a stunning $750,000. Both parents, Munro noted in her opinion, “are wealthy beyond the normal person’s ken and able to finance this litigation ad nauseum. Indeed the pendente lite litigation was an obscene display by the plaintiff of his ability to retain seemingly endless strategic resources — but he stopped and agreed in March 2004 to joint custody.” From that point, Munro observed, his ex-wife “is the one who has not been able to stop.” The divorce began dramatically on Sept. 8, 2003, when Perricone, convinced that his wife’s mental instability was a threat to the child, obtained ex parte orders from New Haven Superior Court Judge James G. Kenefick Jr. for sole custody of the girl and sole occupancy of the couple’s Guilford estate. Both parents submitted to psychological evaluations. The parties stipulated Madeline Perricone had “mild bipolar disorder.” Psychiatrist Kyle Pruitt found Nicholas Perricone well adjusted and highly productive, but that, in a stressful situation, his decision-making became rigid and impulsive. Mrs. Perricone, from her training in psychology and her personality profile, “may be better able to listen to another’s point of view in a way that lends itself to joint custody co-operation,” Munro noted. But both parents departed from their psychological profiles — he for the better, she for the worse. The wife’s hostility toward her husband, wrote Munro, “overpowered her ability to engage her substantial psychological skills.” Nicholas Perricone, however, “has yielded over and over to the will of” Mrs. Perricone to reduce conflict for the child, the judge found. Madeline Perricone was enraged by her husband’s wealth and power. But the more she exerted her own will, through her personal actions or ferocious litigation tactics, the worse she appeared to Munro. Although the child was training for her first Catholic communion, Mrs. Perricone, without consulting the father, took her to a Congregational church on the alternate weekends she had custody. “It is her position that she can do what she wants with the child when the child is with her,” wrote Munro. This, the judge maintained, shows she’s not “invested in the spirit or practice of joint custody.” In November 2004, Nicholas Perricone got the chance to have an audience with the late Pope John Paul II, along with his daughter. But the mother refused to let him take the child along for reasons that were “entirely unreasonable” Munro wrote. By court order, the judge assured the child would see the pope. The pope’s blessing, it turns out, stemmed from Nicholas Perricone’s construction of an orphanage in Brazil. When the mother of his daughter’s schoolmate testified that her child could no longer afford the tuition, Nicholas Perricone steered her to his foundation for a scholarship. That gesture would “NEVER” have come to the attention of the court, Munro pointed out, except for the wife’s lawyer “inferring … there was something wrong with it.” The law firm that had won joint custody for Madeline Perricone is the mother-daughter team of Elaine S. and Bonnie L. Amendola, of Fairfield. After the divorce, Madeline Perricone hired Hartford attorney C. Michael Budlong to try to open or set aside the decree on the shocking grounds that Elaine Amendola was given a “secret financial bonus” of attorney fees by the opposing party, Nicholas Perricone. Munro, who had previously ruled that Madeline Perricone makes things up to suit her purposes, explained in a Sept. 12 articulation that the fraud charges were utterly unproven and untrue. When her client turned on her, Elaine Amendola retained Steven D. Ecker, of Hartford’s Cowdery, Ecker & Murphy. Reached last week, Ecker said he was gratified by Munro’s conclusion. Budlong, who did not return a call for comment, helped Madeline Perricone obtain appellate counsel and withdrew. New Haven’s Lori Welch-Rubin has asked Munro to reconsider her sole custody decision.

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