Civil Conspiracy in Divorce Actions

Family Civil Rights Movement - 2015Civil Conspiracy and Civil RICO in Divorce Actions – Family Law Reader

I. Introduction

There is little question that fraud in procuring a settlement agreement can justify setting aside the agreement and judgment. E.g., In re Marriage of Modnick, 33 Cal. 3d 897, 191 Cal. Rptr. 629 (1983); Compton v. Compton, 101 Idaho 328, 612 P.2d 1175 (1980); Anderson v. Anderson, 399 N.E.2d 391 (Ind. Ct. App. 1979); Daffin v. Daffin, 567 S.W.2d 672 (Mo. 1978).

Fraud in procuring a settlement can also be the basis for an independent tort action. Hall v. Hall, 455 So. 2d 813 (Ala. 1984); In re Benge, 151 Ariz. 219, 726 P.2d 1088 (Ct. App. 1986); Dale v. Dale, 66 Cal. App. 4th1172, 78 Cal. Rptr. 2d 513 (1998); Den v. Den, 222 A.2d 647 (D.C. 1966); Oehme v. Oehme, 10 Kan. App. 2d 73, 691 P.2d 1325 (1984); Burris v. Burris, 904 S.W.2d 564 (Mo. 1995); Carney v. Wohl, 785 S.W.2d 630 (Mo. Ct. App. 1990); Hess v. Hess, 397 Pa. Super. 395, 580 A.2d 357 (1990). See also Vickery v. Vickery, 1996 WL 255755 (Tex. Ct. App., December 5, 1996) (wife awarded $9 million against husband for fraudulently procuring divorce and marital settlement agreement, and $450,000 against husband’s attorney),affirmed over dissent in light of Schleuter v. Schleuter, 975 S.W.2d 584 (Tex. 1998),Vickery v. Vickery, 999 S.W.2d 342 (Tex. 1999). See generally, Robert G. Spector,Marital Torts: The Current Legal Landscape, 33 Fam. L. Q. 745, 757 (1999); Cary L. Cheifetz, The Future of Matrimonial Torts: The Unmapped Landscape, 15 Fair$hare 4 (August 1995). The courts are especially harsh with spouses that commit fraud who are attorneys. Anderson v. Anderson, 399 N.E.2d 391 (Ind. Ct. App. 1979); Scholler v. Scholler, 10 Ohio St. 2d 98, 462 N.E.2d 158 (1984); Webb v. Webb, 16 Va. App. 486, 431 S.E.2d 55 (1993).

The concealment of marital assets during the divorce proceeding has also given rise to tort actions. Swain v. Swain, 576 N.E.2d 1281 (Ind. Ct. App. 1991); Garrity v. Garrity, 399 Mass. 367, 504 N.E.2d 617 (1987). But seeBeers v. Beers, 724 So. 2d 109 (Fla. 5th DCA 1998); Nederlander v. Nederlander, 205 Mich. App. 123, 517 N.W.2d 768 (1994); Smith v. Smith, 113 N.C. app. 410, 438 S.E.2d 457 (1994); Schleuter v. Schleuter, 975 S.W.2d 584 (Tex. 1998); Gardner v. Gardner, 175 Wis. 2d 420, 499 N.W.2d 266 (Ct. App. 1993).

Spouses have even been successfuly in asserting violations of securities laws. Evans v. Dale, 896 F.2d 975 (5th Cir. 1990). But see Head v. Head, 759 F.2d 1172 (4th Cir. 1985); McHugh v. McHugh, 676 F. Supp. 856 (N.D. Ill. 1988); d’Elia v. d’Elia, 58 Cal. App. 4th 415, 68 Cal. Rptr. 2d 324 (1997).

But what can a spouse do when a third party or parties conspires with a spouse to hide marital assets? Is there a cause of action against the third parties? Increasingly, some spouses have been turning to civil conspiracy and Civil RICO.

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