By Terrence McCoy
By Allie Conti
By Chuck Strouse
By Scott Fishman
By Terrence McCoy
By Ryan Yousefi
By Ciara LaVelle, Kat Bein, Carolina Del Busto, and Liz Tracy
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Levine couldn't stay long; he needed to get back to Miami to work, but Feinberg decided to extend her vacation a few extra days so she could spend time with her parents. Feinberg says Levine telephoned her after he arrived in Miami. He had startling news, he wanted a divorce. She was dumbfounded. "I felt like my heart broke," she says. "I had never thought of divorce. Paul wanted to marry me so badly." Upset and confused, Feinberg remained with her parents, and several days later, Levine called again. This time, according to Feinberg, he said he was sorry; he didn't know why he had asked for a divorce. He said he missed her. He missed Wendy. He wanted to know when she would come home. It was like waking up from a nightmare, Feinberg says. She told him she'd come home immediately. Levine reportedly said he'd meet her at the airport.
Relieved but still anxious, Brenda stepped off the plane in Miami with Wendy in tow. She stood at the gate, searching the terminal for Paul. No sign of him. Then, after a few minutes, a man walked up to her and asked if she was Brenda Levine. Paul must have been tied up at the office, she thought to herself, and he's sent someone else to pick her up. Yes, she told the stranger, she was Brenda. The man handed her a piece of paper and walked away. It was a summons. Paul wasn't coming to the airport. He had filed for a divorce. She threw the paper in the trash and hailed a cab. When she got home, Levine had already moved out.
Levine says he doesn't recall how he asked for a divorce. As to why he wanted a divorce: "The woman was an overbearing, aggravating woman," he says. "We could not get along. We argued. Our personalities are 100 percent diametrically opposed. I couldn't stand her."
The divorce settlement was simple; Feinberg says Levine drafted the agreement himself. Neither of them had very much. He had only earned $13,000 in his first year as a lawyer. Feinberg was given a lump-sum alimony payment of $4350 and custody of Wendy. Levine received liberal visitation rights. He also agreed to pay $150 per month in child support for the first year, and $250 per month after that. Feinberg says she had sought to have Levine pay for her graduate studies, but he refused. Instead, she says, the negotiations centered on Wendy's college education. "I figured if they weren't giving me my college, I just wanted to make sure I would have the college for Wendy," she says.
The agreement stipulated that each parent had consented to pay for half of all schooling until Wendy reached the age of eighteen, and went on to state: "Should the child pursue higher education following graduation from high school, said benefits for the child shall hereunder continue until age 22 or termination of studies, whichever first occurs."
Believing she had secured half of Wendy's college tuition, Brenda signed the papers.
Wendy and Paul Levine have never been close. Every other Sunday, little Wendy would be dressed and waiting at the door for her father to arrive. More often than not, Brenda Feinberg says, he didn't. "I was trying to encourage him to really see her regularly," Feinberg says, "and then she'd sit and wait and he wouldn't show up." Feinberg complained, and court records show that on May 17, 1978, Levine gave up his rights to visitation. "Levine wasn't willing to make any commitment to visiting Wendy at all, Nard Helman, Feinberg's attorney at the time, stated in a deposition, "and basically threw the ball in [Feinberg's] court. Raise her, she's your daughter."
For nearly a year, Wendy and her father had no contact at all. Looking back on it, Levine blames his ex-wife. It was Feinberg, he says, who made it impossible for him to visit his daughter. But instead of asking a judge to enforce his visitation rights, he merely relinquished them. After Wendy's eighth birthday, Levine resumed regular visitation, although Feinberg claims that Wendy rarely, if ever, spent the night at her father's house in Gables-by-the-Sea. By this time Brenda and Paul had remarried and both were raising new families.
Wendy Levine says her most vivid early memories of her father and her paternal grandparents involve their constant quizzing about her college plans. "College was always the issue," she says by telephone from Evanston, Illinois, where she's attending Northwestern University, working toward a bachelor's degree in journalism. "They never came to ballet recitals or school plays, they just talked about college. College was the end-all of my existence with them." When she was ten, she recalls, her father sat her down in front of a video camera and questioned her about what colleges she was interested in.
Wendy says her father and her grandparents always told her they would take care of her college education. In fact a 1978 child-support agreement read, in part: "The minor child's paternal grandparents have paid all private schooling expenses in the past, continue to pay these expenses at the present time, and have expressed the desire to continue paying these expenses in the future."