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Economist's Former Wife Cashes In on His Nobel Prize : Law: Thanks to her foresight in crafting a 1989 divorce agreement, Rita Lucas gets half of the $1-million award.

October 21, 1995|MARTHA GROVES | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Some ex-wives might have begrudged a former spouse his moment in the sun, but Rita C. Lucas couldn't have been happier when Robert E. Lucas Jr. won the Nobel Prize for economics last week.

No wonder. Thanks to her prescient insertion of a wee clause into their divorce settlement nearly seven years ago, she stands to get half of the $1-million purse.

It seems that when Robert Lucas, 58, an economics professor at the University of Chicago, was formulating his pioneering theory of "rational expectations" and being touted as an eventual shoo-in for the prestigious award, his wife was developing some great expectations of her own.

So she asked her lawyer to draw up Paragraph 6 in a property settlement dated Jan. 23, 1989: "Wife shall receive 50% of any Nobel Prize. . . ."

Talk about timing. The divorce settlement was due to expire on Oct. 31. If the professor had been honored next year, for example, Rita Lucas, 55, might have been out of luck.

A lot of guys who had just won $1 million--only to have it slashed in half by a pesky, long-ago agreement with a former spouse--might be feeling a little bitter about now. But Robert Lucas, who headed off for a trip after teaching a class Friday afternoon and did not return phone calls, seemed remarkably sanguine about the matter in an interview that appeared Friday in the Chicago Tribune.

"A deal is a deal," he told columnist Ellen Warren. "It was her idea. Maybe if I'd known I'd win, I would have resisted the clause." Apparently still euphoric from the recognition by the Nobel Prize committee, he added: "It's hard to be unpleasant after winning a prize like that."

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Rita Lucas' attorney in Chicago, Jim Rubens, also declined to comment on the matter Friday, saying he was trying to help his client preserve her privacy, which was in short supply after the revelation of her skill as a clairvoyant.

The settlement clause specifies that she would receive half the prize money remaining after her former husband has paid taxes on the amount.

In a low-key chat with the Tribune, Rita Lucas noted that "the top federal income tax rate for individuals is 39.6%, plus 3% state income tax."

That comment would indicate that although she is trained as a pharmacologist rather than an economist, perhaps she soaked up a few tidbits from the "dismal science" during 29 years of marriage.

Even seasoned divorce lawyers professed surprise at the custom clause inserted by lawyer Charlotte Adelman, now retired, at the behest of Rita Lucas.

"That's amazing," said Los Angeles attorney Sorrell Trope. "Off the top of my head, I can't think of anything analogous to that."

He added, however, that "it has given me an idea" for boilerplate language for future settlements with artists, musicians, authors, inventors and other creative individuals who might someday be in the running for prizes or awards.

It is noteworthy that Rita Lucas apparently had more confidence in her husband at the time of their divorce than he did. After all, his selection keeps alive a phenomenal streak by the University of Chicago economics team. He is the eighth faculty member to win the economics prize and the fifth in the last six years.

Born in Yakima, Wash., in 1937, Robert Lucas has been a professor at the school since 1975 and had been viewed as a top contender for the Nobel Prize for several years. The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences lauded him as having "the greatest influence on macroeconomic research since 1970."

Starting in the mid-1970s, the professor and his proponents revolutionized modern economic theory, demonstrating why government efforts to fine-tune economies often go awry. Shattering most of the accepted Keynesian wisdom of the postwar era that governments must actively manage the business cycle, he applied a theory dubbed "rational expectations" to the economy.

His work is grounded in an intuitive notion that people and companies will adjust their choices to spend or invest based on actions they expect the government to take.

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But critics contend that the notion of rational expectations promotes government inaction, even in times of rapid change--a risky strategy. They note that even Robert Lucas has shifted his attention of late to studying what determines long-range growth.

The Lucases were married in August, 1959, in New York and have two sons, both now grown. Their divorce documents cited "irreconcilable differences" as a reason for the breakup.

Lucas will receive the Nobel Prize and the $1 million at a ceremony Dec. 10 in Stockholm. Rita Lucas is not expected to accompany him.

Times researcher John Beckham in Chicago contributed to this story.

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