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No, You Can’t Protect Your Assets With a Secret, Fake Divorce.

So much to comment on in this New York Post story. First a brief summary, although it is worth reading in full. Gabriel Villa and Cristina Carta Villa were married in New York in 1994. According to the Post, they lived “the good life” for the next twenty years, “jetting between homes in New York and France.” Then last November, a tax bill arrived at the couple’s Manhattan apartment that did not include Cristina’s name. Suspicious, she hired a private investigator (and yes, we are assuming there were other issues at play if your first thought is to hire a PI). The investigator dug up a paperwork trail that led back to a divorce decree, obtained in the Dominican Republic, a mere four months after the 1994 wedding. Cristina believes Gabriel did this to shelter his assets, a theory that gains credence when you also hear Cristina’s allegation that Gabriel used the divorce decree to try and remove her name from their apartment deed.

Okay, first things first on this one: don’t do this. Do not do this. This is not a legitimate, viable method of protecting assets, and it is also immoral. We have no idea if Cristina’s allegations are true or not, but even if they aren’t probably somebody somewhere has tried this before or considered it, so just to repeat one more time: do not obtain a fake divorce without your spouse’s consent to protect your assets.

So, more to the point, would this work? Unsurprisingly, it would not. First of all, to even have a chance at succeeding in a New York court, you would have to commit fraud. While the Dominican Republican is a so-called “hot spot” for quickie divorces, and has no residency requirements for divorces by consent of both parties, it does mandate that at least one party actually show up for a hearing, while the other party must sign a specialized power of attorney form. So best case scenario, you are going to have to fake your spouse’s signature on the power of attorney form, which is almost certainly a crime.

Generally, New York courts do accept foreign divorce decrees, including those obtained from divorce-mill type municipalities like the DR or Guam, if certain requirements are met. Those requirements would also bar a conniving spouse from having his fake divorce decree enforced. To be valid in New York, a foreign divorce must include some sort of proof that both spouses consented to the decree. Additionally, both spouses need to be “noticed” that one spouse is trying to enforce the foreign decree in a New York court. Thus, Gabriel is eventually going to have let the cat out of the bag and tell Cristina that, whoops, they were allegedly only married for four months.

Frankly, it is beyond my comprehension how – again, assuming the claims by Cristina are true – Gabriel thought this would work for him. I can only imagine he didn’t run this by a lawyer first, because even the most devious divorce attorney would say something like, “Huh? No, you cannot do that.” There are legitimate ways for a monied spouse to protect assets – prenuptial agreements and postnuptial agreements are both popular options that do not involve committing fraud. Avail yourself of these arrangements before – nay, in lieu of –surreptitiously obtaining a fake divorce mere months after marriage.

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