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Until three weeks ago, the closest Good Morning America's, Joan Lunden ever got to losing her highly public poise was to frown and mutter "Darn!" But on June 8 the nation's early-morning sweetheart went ballistic. A Westchester County Supreme Court justice had just handed down a decision ordering her to pay Michael Krauss, 52, the husband of 14 years from whom she had recently separated, $18,000 a month in temporary alimony. She is also liable for the mortgage on the 10-room colonial-style house they once shared, as well as property taxes, fuel, electricity, cable TV bills and payments on his life and health insurance.

"This is a deplorable and shameful statement on how working women are treated today," complained Lunden, 41, who reportedly earns more than $2 million a year. "Why the courts don't tell a husband who has been living off his wife to go get a job is beyond my comprehension."

While many feminists were troubled by Lunden's apparently unliberated outburst—which seemed to imply that women wage earners should not be held to the same standard of postmarital responsibility as men—other working women breathed sisterly fire at the decision. "It irks me that she has to pay that kind of alimony when he certainly wasn't an asset to her career—and she was an asset to his," fumes a former coworker. Adds Kim Gandy, executive vice president of NOW: "The courts seem to delight in saying, 'You all wanted equality; well, here it is.' Frequently, women earning good money are at least the temporary recipients of the judicial version of 'Gotcha!' "

Indeed, in men's locker rooms across the country, you could practically hear the uncorking of champagne. "It's marvelous," declared Richard Templeton of the American Society of Separated and Divorced Men. "Tens of thousands of men have had to pay alimony unfairly."

Krauss' attorney, Norman Sheresky, believes his client earned every penny. Sheresky points out that Krauss was a producer on Good Morning America when Lunden first arrived there in 1980 and that he subsequently produced other shows she starred in, including Lifetime Television's Mother's Day. "This was not the house that Joan built; it was the house that Joan and Michael built," he argues. "Now it is time to divide that house up equitably."

Lunden, of course, is not the first woman celebrity who has ended up paying—in one way or another—a queen's ransom for her freedom. In 1969, '40s screen goddess Lana Turner, then 49, married husband No. 7, hypnotist Ronald Dante, three weeks after they met. Six months later the groom pinned a kiss-off note on her bathroom mirror and fled with a $35,000 check she had just written to start him off in business. When he demanded $200,000 more in a divorce settlement, the Superior Court of Los Angeles threw out his claim. The late Woolworth heiress Barbara Hutton was not so fortunate. Even the briefest of her seven marriages, to playboy Porfirio Rubirosa for a mere 73 days in 1954, ended with the groom walking away with a twin-engine plane, a string polo ponies and a reported $1 million. "I won't say my husbands thought only of money," said Hutton, "but it has a certain fascination for some of them."

Consider, too, Jane Fonda. In the course of her 16-year marriage to California Assemblyman Tom Hayden, she contributed hefty profits from her aerobics empire and movie career to his various political campaigns, including one for the U.S. Senate. Even so, when they broke up in December 1989, she forked over at least $10 million of the estimated $50 million she had earned during those years. Goldie Hawn was hit twice. Laugh-In's "girl with the giggle" hardly found it funny when in 1976 she had to cough up $75,000 to end her four-year marriage to director Gus Trikonis. "He never supported me a day in his life," she grumbled at the time. Five years later, when she divorced entertainer Bill Hudson, California's community-property law required her to "divide equally" their assets. Hers were substantially greater than his.

Kim Basinger is another beauty burdened by big-bucks payments. In 1988, when she split from her makeup-artist husband of eight years, Ron Britton, he asked for $12,000 a month and threatened to tell tales about what he called her flamboyant romances if the case went to trial. In the end he remained mum, and she parted with their $700,000 Los Angeles house and more than $64,000 in support.

Recently stung, too, was miniseries diva Jane Seymour. When, in March of 1991, she and her husband of 10 years, real estate developer David Flynn, split up, he requested $20,000 a month in alimony. In May the Santa Monica Superior Court awarded Flynn $10,000 a month through 1994. In addition Seymour agreed to cover over $500,000 in debts owed by his company and to give him half the value of their $5 million Santa Barbara ocean-side estate plus half of all their furniture and art, in keeping with the California community-property laws. "Obviously there were provisions Miss Seymour wasn't happy with," said her attorney. Still, he conceded, both parties felt the decision was fair. Claims Flynn: "We're still friends."

The same cannot be said for Roseanne Arnold and her former husband, William Pentland. Arnold filed for divorce on July 13,1989. Pentland, a former hotel night clerk turned house-husband and part-time comedy writer, called his estranged wife an unfit mother "with a history of instability and emotional problems." He also insisted, "I'm the one who has been at home providing love while she's been off tending to her career." "I'm not going to try to screw Hill out of a light bulb. I loved him for 16 years," responded Rosie. "I said I'd leave him plenty. Half the money and the house. All I want to do is move out and take the kids with me."

Generous? Apparently not. Pentland hired three attorneys, including outspoken palimony lawyer Marvin Mitchelson, to negotiate a better settlement. After the divorce was finalized in 1990, Roseanne got custody of their three kids, Jessica, 17, Jennifer, 15, and Jake, 13. Although under the terms of the divorce agreement Pentland is barred from disclosing financial details, a source close to the couple says he will receive support for 10 years. Onstage, however, Rosie says he'll gel half her earnings for life.

"I didn't know I was married to such an ass—— until the end," sneers a fed-up and furious Roseanne in her current HBO Comedy Hour special, Roseanne Arnold. "He should be paying me half the money he makes, except what am I going to do with an extra 40 bucks a week?"

Postromance wrath is not necessarily confined to opposite sexes. Take the palimony battle between tennis ace Martina Navratilova, 34, and former Cotton Bowl Queen Judy Nelson, 45. After they broke up in 1991, Judy insisted Martina honor the "nonmarital cohabitation agreement" they had signed and videotaped in 1986. But Martina balked at its terms—a 50-50 split of everything she had earned during their seven years together. "I'm disappointed that the only way Judy is capable of making a living is through me," complained Navratilova. Nelson, who claimed to have handled the details of Martina's professional and domestic life, "sacrificing my own goals in the process," countered, "It's about two people having mutual rights in a relationship."

At stake were $10 million, a Rolls-Royce, two Porsches, a BMW, several houses and Judy's refusal to sign a gag agreement concerning her life with Martina. The couple reached a private settlement in March. Nelson retained their $1.3 million Aspen home—and her right to talk, which she exercised when she sold her story to London's Daily Mirror, for $65,000, according to a friend. Said her disappointed ex: "She wants me to pay for the pain I caused her in not wanting to be with her anymore."

"Whether it's a man or a woman," concurs L.A. divorce lawyer Gloria Allred, "the checkbook is used as a club, a weapon to punish and embarrass the spouse." Indeed, who can forget the 1987 battle between Dynasty's Joan Collins, now 59, and her Swedish rock-singer husband of 13 months, Peter Holm, 45. A prenuptial agreement gave him 20 percent of her earnings—for "managerial services"—as long as they were married. That came to $1.3 million, but Peter wanted more—half of her $5.2 million earnings.

Collins, who had just finished paying off $1 million to her previous husband, recording executive Ron Kass, had had enough. "I've been taken advantage of by men since I was 20," she fumed. "I'm not going to give him anything." The court honored her prenup. But Joan was scarred. When asked what she wanted in the future, the star snapped. "Freedom, thank you very much."

Tell it to designer Mary McFadden, 54, whose divorce from fourth husband Kohle Yohannan, 24, became final last month. After 22 months of marriage, Yohannan, a Columbia University design student, filed suit last April, claiming to be "the victim of a much older, selfish...alcoholic woman" who demanded "to be slapped around during sexual relations." McFadden in turn described him as "a spaced-out delinquent..." and someone "known to be a homosexual" who, she charged, had never consummated their marriage. All told, McFadden got off cheap: $600 a week in temporary alimony and a final settlement reportedly around $100,000.

Room for Two and Alice star Linda Lavin, 54, also fought a ferocious alimony battle against her estranged husband, sometime actor Clifford "Kip" Niven, 47, who petitioned the New York State Supreme Court for a reported $5 million of the $11 million she had earned during their nine years together. (He earned about $200,000.) In testimony that she called "painful but empowering," Lavin said that when they made love, "I got the feeling he was pretending I was someone else." And he might have been. Two female casting directors testified that they had had long-term affairs with Niven while Lavin was supporting him. Although Niven was denied temporary alimony, the final division of property will be determined this month.

Phyllis Diller, 74, makes no bones about the fact that she bought her way out of both her marriages—but with a difference: She always maintained control. Of her 1965 settlement with Sherwood Diller, father of her five children, Diller says, "I did it of my own volition. I gave him everything I had—an eight-unit apartment building, our home in St. Louis, a brand new car. Then I took the kids and left." One month later she married the late actor-singer Warde Donovan, and throughout the marriage supported him with an allowance. When they divorced in 1975, she adds, "he stuck me for thousands of dollars, but thank God I was smart enough to have a prenuptial agreement. Otherwise he would have taken half of every thing I had."

Demands for alimony don't just come from the lesser-known spouses of celebrated women. Even the likes of Ivan Boesky, 55, the onetime "king of the arbitrageurs" who made hundreds of millions before being sent to prison for 22 months in 1988 for insider trading, is now suing his estranged wife, Seema, 52, for support. Released in 1990, Boesky, who claims he is broke, having spent his money on court fines and his legal defense, headed to court in April, asking for $1 million a year in temporary alimony from the Detroit heiress whose family once owned the Beverly Hills Hotel. "I should not be forced to incur further debt while Seema redecorates the marital estate," said Boesky. Insists Seema: "The money that I presently have is from my inheritance." While litigation continues, she is mostly angered by the entanglements of the system. "Ivan isn't going to benefit from this," she says. "Neither am I. The only ones to benefit from this whole process are the lawyers." That said, she adds, her own bottom line is simple: "You're at everybody's mercy—the courts', the lawyers'." And Seema says bleakly, "I'm going to protect myself."

The best protection, financial advisers suggest, lies in anticipating problems. "Prenuptial agreements may be unromantic," notes Gail Koff, a Jacoby & Meyers divorce attorney and author of the book Love and the Law, "but I recommend them for any woman who has assets of her own." Adds Gloria Allred: "A woman marries for better or worse. She should hope it's better but plan for worse." As for Lunden's predicament, Allred shrugs off the settlement as fair. "If we want to make advances in women's rights," she says, "we cannot deny men their rights under the law." After all, legions of men—among them Norman Lear, Norman Mailer, Rod Stewart and Johnny Carson—have paid what some might consider excessive alimony.

Yet in the end the issues are not just financial—for men or women. They involve wounded pride and broken hearts. "My crime is stupidity, naïveté and not loving Judy anymore," summed up Navratilova. "Should you pay for that?" In today's courts, the answer is usually yes.

MARJORIE ROSEN
JOYCE WAGNER in Los Angeles, BRYAN ALEXANDER in New York City and LINDA KRAMER in Washington, D.C.

  • Contributors:
  • Joyce Wagner,
  • Bryan Alexander,
  • Linda Kramer.