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Amid a bitter divorce, a wall goes up at home

Simon and Chana Taub are splitting. And their house hasn't been exempt.
Simon Taub
A white drywall partition, in background at left, separates Simon Taub from Chana Taub in their Brooklyn home.Seth Wenig / AP file
/ Source: The Associated Press

Simon and Chana Taub are splitting. And their house hasn't been exempt.

A wall has been built in the middle of the couple's spacious home in Brooklyn to separate the bickering spouses — neither of whom is willing to move out. The white drywall partition, built just a few weeks ago, is the latest chapter in a messy divorce battle that has been staggering through the courts for nearly two years.

The case has been dubbed Brooklyn's "War of the Roses," after the 1989 divorce flick starring Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner. Aside from the wall, the Taub version has other strange elements: Chana Taub says her husband has bugged her phones. Simon Taub says his wife owns too many shoes.

Experts say the wall is one of the strangest things they've seen in divorce cases in New York — a city that has had its share of husband-and-wife feuds over real estate.

It's not as if the Taubs have no place else to go. For one thing, they own a residence two doors down. But for reasons including stubbornness, spite and their love of the home, both insist on staying in this particular house.

"It's something emotional. ... It's my house. And emotionally, in my age, I want to be in my house!" says Simon Taub, 57. He calls his wife a gold-digger and says he requested the barrier for protection against "her lies."

Chana Taub, 57, who claims her husband abused her, says she has as much right to stay as he does, if not more. "I need a house to live in and money to live on!" she says. "I worked very hard, like a horse, like a slave for him."

Beyond normal boundaries
Barry Berkman, a divorce lawyer in New York City, said it's not unusual for a couple to fight over a house or refuse to move out during divorce proceedings. Courts sometimes ask splitting couples to set boundaries, such as letting a spouse have access to the study during a certain part of the day.

But "an actual wall?" That's a new one, Berkman said.

The wall splits the bottom floor of the richly decorated three-story house, which the city has assessed as having a market value of $923,000. The couple is separated on the second floor by a door — to which Chana has bolted a large piece of wood. Simon has placed drywall on his side of the door.

Chana and three of the four children the couple have together get the top floor, which is mostly bedrooms. Simon and the couple's youngest child get a living room and dining room.

Chana Taub, a small woman with wide eyes and a blonde wig, which covers her real hair in an Orthodox Jewish tradition, says that for two decades she served Simon like a virtual slave, putting up with physical and mental abuse that grew more severe over the years. She says she had to flush the toilet after him, and put on his socks and shoes for him. He became so violent by mid-2005 that she filed for divorce, she says.

Simon Taub denies ever laying a hand on Chana, and says he gave her a luxurious lifestyle. But his sweater manufacturing company went bankrupt in the late 1990s, he suffered a second heart attack in 2005 that only worsened their financial problems.

He then told her there were money troubles, he said. That's when — and why — she moved for a divorce — to squeeze what money he had left, he says.

Chana said she doesn't want much from her husband, mainly just alimony, child support and a fair share of property. Simon says he's willing to settle things with Chana, even selling the house if necessary, but that she thinks he's richer than he really is.

Jewish Imelda Marcos?
In August 2005, a judge said Simon, whom Chana had forced out of the house, could move back in after building a wall. Chana appealed and managed to prevent construction. An appeals panel eventually allowed the wall, calling it a "novel" concept. In December, the wall went up and Simon moved back in.

At one point during the transition, someone said Chana Taub had 300 pairs of shoes trapped on Simon's side. Chana claims that's a lie Simon cooked up to make her look like the Imelda Marcos of the Orthodox Jewish community.

"I am not interested in shoes," she says.

Simon Taub retorts: "Maybe it was 299. I didn't count it."

Chana Taub says that since Simon has returned, he's been monitoring her through strategically placed video cameras. Simon Taub says the surveillance goes both ways, and points to cameras on her side, though Chana claims she doesn't control those. Chana says Simon has bugged her phones. Simon says that's crazy — he doesn't care who she talks to.

Kimberly Flemke, a therapist with the Council for Relationships in Philadelphia, said when spouses go so far as to refuse to leave a house while divorcing, it often means neither is ready to move on.

"It's clear that if they're going to go this length, there's still far too much connection," she said, adding later, "I would hope they'd both go to therapy."

A hearing on the case is scheduled in February, but it may be delayed if Simon Taub undergoes surgery on his heart. Chana Taub says there's nothing wrong with her husband's heart _ physically.

At the end of the day, "the whole thing is just a money story," Simon Taub says.

No, Chana says, it's about her rights after years of servitude and abuse.

The truth may lie somewhere in the middle. Like the wall in their house.