Problem with Deadbeat Husband
By: Dr. Mike Gora
Q My deadbeat ex-husband told me when we got divorced 15 years ago that he would make sure that I never got a penny of the alimony or child support the judge awarded me in the trial. He now owes me about $350,000. I started to try to collect years ago, but he disappeared. I just found him living in North Florida, under another name, with another woman; they are not married.
He lives in a huge home, worth a million dollars, which is in her name, in a golf course community. The records show that the house has no mortgage. I can prove that all the money that went into the house came from the deadbeat. I cannot find any assets in his name. Can I collect anything, by getting at the money that he has in the house?
A It might be possible to force the sale of the home, but you have a few hurdles to get over. As she owns the home, you must first prove that putting the home in her name involved a fraudulent transfer of the money to buy the home, or the home itself.
First you must prove that you are a creditor, which seems apparent. You must join both your “ex” and the woman in your lawsuit, and serve process.
Secondly, you have to prove your ex-husband is insolvent, or became insolvent by transferring the property to his girlfriend, without receiving anything of equivalent value for the home. If you can convince the judge of these facts, the court can give you remedies to help you collect. An injunction can issue to prevent the home from being sold, mortgaged, or given away. A receiver can be appointed. An order can be entered setting the transfer to the woman aside; the home can be attached, forcing its sale.
The homeowner and your former husband will try using the homestead provisions of the Florida Constitution as a defense. The homestead protection prevents legitimate creditors, such as you, from collecting from the forced sale of the defendant’s home.
If you can prove the fraudulent transfer, you may be able to get around the homestead defense, as the title was never legitimately in the woman, and was no longer in the ex-husband. There are some cases in lower appellate courts that alimony or child support can trump homestead, but that has yet to be approved by the Florida Supreme Court.
He might be able to raise the defense of “laches”, which is similar to a statute of limitations. However, if you have been actively pursuing you claims through the years, and he intentionally hid from you by using an assumed name, you will be able to defeat that defense.
Michael H. Gora has been certified by the Board of Specialization of The Florida Bar as a specialist in family and matrimonial law, and is a partner with Shapiro Blasi Wasserman & Gora P.A. in Boca Raton. Mr. Gora may be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.