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Summery Judgment

Divorcing couples fight over who gets the beach house. Some just share, scheduling court times to avoid each other.

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The summer-home custody battles are heating up. “As matrimonial lawyers who represent the affluent, we have seasons,” says Susan Bender, of Bender Burrows & Rosenthal. “This is the season of who can run to court fastest to file an application for exclusive possession of the Hamptons house.” According to New York State law, there’s no right to exclusive use and occupancy of any one home for divorcing couples—meaning couples engaged in nasty May-through-August divorce proceedings often have to share their getaway, at least temporarily. “Usually a couple will decide on alternating weeks or weekends, and the kids, nannies, and dogs stay put in the house all summer,” says Nancy Chemtob, of Chemtob Moss Forman & Talbert. But these arrangements can get ugly quickly, as exes encounter evidence of the other’s new life. “I would go out there when he wasn’t there, but it didn’t work,” says a 45-year-old, who asked not to be named, of the East Hampton house she shared during her separation from her husband of fourteen years. “I found my clothes in the laundry basket with his girlfriend’s clothes, which really pissed me off. I couldn’t take it, so I let him have the house and took the apartment in the city.” Chemtob says, “I have a client who flipped out and called the police after she found a sex book her husband left in their Hamptons house the previous weekend.” And one of Bender’s clients arrived at his summer home to discover that his ex-wife had cut a sleeve off every one of his Paul Stuart suits.

While sharing a summer home can be traumatic, forgoing Hamptons privileges can be just as painful. Take the case of another fortysomething woman, who didn’t want to be named, who’s currently separated from her husband, with whom she shared an Upper East Side apartment and a house in Wainscott. Summer’s arrived, and “I don’t know what I’m doing because he’s taking the house,” she says. “It’s not fair. We have a whole life out there—a big social life!” But in the face of house-sharing adversity, some can learn to patch things up in their own way. Errol Margolin and his ex-wife, Ellen, have shared their Bridgehampton house since divorcing three years ago. “We built it together, we raised our children there, and we both love the house,” says Margolin, who also rents a studio apartment in East Hampton for the weekends his wife has the house. “We even still belong to the same club” he says. “But I play in the early mornings and she plays in the afternoons, so we don’t run into each other.”

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