Divorce Train Wrecks, ERISA, Money, Old People, Partner Issues, Partner Profits

How Much Do Retired Wachtell Partners Make?

Wachtell Lipton is one of the nation’s most prestigious and most profitable law firms. The lawyers who work there, especially the partners, are some seriously smart cookies.

So perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising that a former Wachtell partner has gotten the best of his ex-wife in contentious divorce proceedings. Leigh Jones of the National Law Journal reports:

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 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.

Let’s cut to the question that everyone is curious about: How big is McKenna’s (retirement) package?

UPDATE: And how hot is Roberta Delente? We’ve added a photo — as well as a link to the appellate court’s opinion, but that’s less exciting — after the jump.

As Larry David might say, prettay, prettay big. Even though McKenna retired from Wachtell all the way back in 1991, and started reducing his workload as early as 1988, he was still getting huge retirement payments well into the 2000s:

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.

So this retired WLRK partner is making over $1 million a year just sitting on his duff, while non-retired partners at less lucrative firms are busting their tails for less. It’s quite appropriate that Peter McKenna’s marital address was 1 Stallion Trail — and not surprising that multiple women over the years have wanted him as their stud. (McKenna’s marriage to Delente was his third and “at least her fourth,” according to the NLJ.)

The fact that Delente ended up with very little after divorcing a retired Wachtell partner becomes more understandable with closer scrutiny of their relationship. They were married very briefly, under a year, and the agreements that they made — before, during, and after their marriage — severely limited Delente’s potential payout. For all of you domestic relations nerds, the NLJ has the details:

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….

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.”

But the reconciliation didn’t last. Just three days before their first anniversary, McKenna sent Delente a second notice of an operative event, declaring his desire to dissolve the union. (This is probably not what Delente had in mind as her paper anniversary gift.) Because the marriage didn’t last a year, Delente was stuck with the $50K.

In the divorce litigation, Delente tried to challenge her waiver of a share in McKenna’s pension benefits by claiming it was invalid under ERISA (a pretty hot area of law). But the appeals court iced her argument. If you’re an ERISA geek, you have our pity can read the full NLJ article for all the reasoning.

Moral of the story: If a Wachtell partner wants you to sign a prenuptial agreement, just say no.

P.S. Disclosure: I worked at Wachtell for a few years. But I never met Peter McKenna, who retired several years before I showed up as a summer associate.

UPDATE: The appeals court opinion appears here. Footnote one notes that “[p]rior to the rendering of judgment dissolving her marriage in this action, Delente changed her name to Katherine Copperfield.”

Run a Google image search for “Katherine Copperfield.” You’ll learn that Copperfield is — or was? — quite the hottie. Remember that she used to be a model.

Check out the photos we’ve added to this post (above right), or all of the modeling images collected here.

Wachtell retiree’s ‘Playmate’ not entitled to share in pension [National Law Journal]

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