The state Appellate Court has upheld the divorce of Richard J. Shenkman and Nancy P. Tyler, whose acrimonious breakup has been the subject of criminal and civil court proceedings in several Connecticut jurisdictions.

Shenkman, who recently changed his surname to Tyler, is accused of burning down a three-story Victorian at 29 S. Washington Ave. in Niantic on March 5, 2007. At the time, he and his wife of 12 years were splitting up. Police said Shenkman torched the house during what was to be his last visit before Tyler assumed exclusive possession. Shenkman has pleaded not guilty.

Shenkman's arson case is pending in New London Superior Court, where his next appearance is scheduled for Aug. 12. His defense team has recently hired a new expert to review physical evidence in the case after the former expert fell ill. The state also recently retained its second expert after its first expert died unexpectedly.

In the Appellate Court decision, released this week, the court ruled that family court Judge Jorge Simon, who had presided over the couple's divorce trial and granted a divorce decree last summer, had not deprived Shenkman of his constitutional rights or abused his discretion.

Because of the pending criminal case, Shenkman had invoked his right to remain silent at the divorce trial. He did not testify or present witnesses, though he cross-examined Tyler at length. In the appeal, he claimed the judge's refusal to continue the divorce trial until his arson case was resolved prevented him from presenting a defense. He also claimed his property rights were taken away without the opportunity for him to be heard at a meaningful time and in a meaningful manner.

Shenkman said Tuesday he would be appealing the decision to the state Supreme Court. In the meantime, he said he would be paying Tyler $100,000 to cover legal fees rather than signing over and selling a house he owns in South Windsor.

Judge Simon granted Tyler the Niantic property, which has been cleared but not rebuilt in the aftermath of the fire because Tyler and Shenkman are involved in yet another legal dispute - this one involving insurance proceeds.

- Karen Florin

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