CHICAGO – An energy magnate's estranged wife was awarded $184 million Monday in what appears to be one of the biggest divorce verdicts in U.S. history.
Citing irreconcilible differences, Maya Polsky, a 55-year-old homemaker and art gallery owner, filed for divorce from her husband, Michael Polsky, in 2003.
Judge William Boyd had ruled in October that Maya Polsky was entitled to half of the Chicago couple's cash and assets, with her share valued at $176 million. On Monday, the judge amended his decision to include previously omitted assets that increased the value of her award to $184 million.
Maya Polsky's attorney, Howard Rosenfeld, said more than $170 million of the award is nontaxable cash. He said that in researching the case he could find nothing in which a homemaker wife received such a significant award.
"She's very much satisfied with the court's decision. She thinks she was fairly treated by the court," Rosenfeld said.
The couple married in 1975 in Kiev, Ukraine, then part of the Soviet Union. They arrived in the United States in 1976 with only four suitcases and $500 in cash, according to court records. In 1980, they moved from Detroit to Chicago, where Michael Polsky found success in the energy business.
Judges in Illinois have some leeway in determining how to split marital assets. Rosenfeld successfully argued that Maya Polsky was her 57-year-old husband's trusted confidant and therefore entitled to half of the estate.
"They would walk together after dinners, and Michael would share details of his work, looking for empathy, advice or merely an open ear," Rosenfeld wrote in court filings. "For many years, their marital partnership flourished. Michael provided sustenance and security, and Maya provided love, support, advice and counsel."
Michael Polsky's attorneys contended that he was responsible for the couple's great wealth and said they will likely appeal Monday's decision.
"He intends to test this decision on appeal because he's always believed that this shouldn't have been a 50-50 split," attorney Joseph Tighe said.
David Meyer, a law professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, said the Polsky case is "remarkable and historic" because of the size of the award and Boyd's decision to split the estate equally.
"Those are huge numbers," Meyer said. "When you get these cases of extraordinary wealth, it really puts to the test this notion of marriage as a complete partnership."
Gaetano Ferro, president of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, said he wasn't aware of a bigger award in the U.S.
Michael Polsky launched the company that eventually would become Northbrook-based SkyGen Energy, a leading independent power producer that sold in 2000 for about $450 million. He is now president and CEO of Invenergy Wind LLC, a Chicago-based wind energy company.