After a decade of marriage, Cristina Carta Villa has filed a lawsuit against her “husband,” Gabriel Villa, to nullify a divorce she was never informed of.
WIFE SEEKS LAWSUIT AFTER LEARNING OF SECRET DIVORCE
Cristina Carta Villa, 59, was when she met Gabriel Villa, 90, at a friend’s house. According to her, “He was absolutely charming, and despite our age difference, it was love at first sight.” The two were married in 1994 and share a son together. Over the past years the couple has split their time between homes in Manhattan and France, living a seemingly happy and married life. There’s only one little detail: the two were actually granted a divorce in the Dominican Republic just four months after their 1994 marriage. The reason? Cristina alleges her husband filed for a secret divorce, citing “incompatibility of temperaments” as the reason for the split, in an attempt to shield his assets. “It was and somehow it’s still a great love,” Cristina Villa says. “Gabriel is a very charismatic man, strong, intelligent and very charming. I think we could say I was a loving and caring wife and mother.” But as Gabriel allegedly told Dominican authorities, life with his wife was “unbearable.” Yet, still he remained at her side for the past twenty years. Even when Gabriel was in the hospital, Cristina explains, “I was always at his side.” He even granted her power of attorney.
HOW SHE FOUND OUT
Cristina only became aware that something was odd when she noticed a tax bill that arrived at the couple’s Manhattan home. Oddly, her name wasn’t on it. She decided to hire a private investigator, which is when she learned that Gabriel had attempted to remove her name from the deed. She is alleging he used the Dominican Republic proceeding as proof she was not a co-owner. He is also attempting to sell the apartment to the couple’s adult daughter, Marina Villa. A sale which Cristina does not agree with. “I realize now that during all these years of joy and happiness, and of difficult moments we shared together, my husband lied to me and had the Dominican divorce on the back of his mind. It’s what is hurting me the most,” she says.
THE STEPS OF THE DIVORCE PROCESS
The steps required for a divorce will be completely dependent on the relationship. In this case, it was a secret one that Cristina Villa didn’t know about. Chances are you won’t want to go down that path. A marriage that was short, did not involve children, where the spouse did not acquire property or debt together will obviously require less sorting out than a marriage that lasted 26 years, where the spouses bought a house and had three children. When there is less “accomplished” during the marriage, there is less to sort out during the divorce process. In shorter marriages, a couple is even able to obtain an expedited divorce. In fact, there are various forms of divorce available (of course, you will need to ensure your state laws regarding these types of divorce), including the following: Summary Divorce: This is an expedited divorce procedure for couples who meet the following requirements: haven’t been married for very long (usually five years or less), don’t own much property, don’t have children, and don’t have significant joint debts. Both spouses must agree to the divorce and file court papers jointly. There is no need to go to trial with this form of divorce. Uncontested Divorce: This is when both spouses agree to the terms of a divorce and file the court papers cooperatively. There is no need to go to trial with this form of divorce. Default Divorce: This is when you file for divorce and your spouse doesn’t respond. A court is able to grant you a divorce even if your spouse did not participate. This is often what happens when spouses cannot be found. There are a number of rules regarding this form of divorce, so you will need to consult a family law attorney or your local divorce court system to obtain this form of divorce. Fault and No-Fault Divorce. California is a “no-fault” state, and what this means is that rather than placing blame on a spouse, all you need to declare is that you and your spouse have “irreconcilable differences” or have suffered an “irremediable breakdown” of your relationship. In fault states, you are able to assign fault to a spouse – such as adultery. There are a number of rules regarding assigning “fault,” so you will need to consult a family law attorney or your local divorce court system. Mediated Divorce. This is a very common process, during which a mediator serves as a neutral third party to help you and your spouse resolve the aspects of your divorce. A mediator does not make decisions, but rather helps the both of you come to an agreement on everything. Collaborative Divorce. Collaborative divorce is a kind of hybrid between a standard divorce and a mediated divorce. You and your spouse both hire separate lawyers that are trained to work with each other to settle your case. This can also involved a larger team of a financial or tax or property adviser. Each spouse discloses all necessary information for fair negotiations, and then meets with each other and both lawyers to discuss settlement. In this form of divorce, if you are not able to settle and thus have to go to court, the original attorneys you have worked with with withdraw from the case and you’ll need to hire different attorneys to take your case to trial. Arbitration. In arbitration, you and your spouse hire a private judge, called an arbitrator. The arbitrator makes the same judgments a judge would make. Both spouses must honor the arbitrator’s decisions as if a judge had made them. Contested Divorce. This is when spouses are unable to decide on property or child custody, or any other aspect of a marriage. The decision will have to be made by a judge in court. You will need to go through settlement negotiation and hearings. If spouses are unable to resolve the case after that, a court trial is held to determine the aspects of the divorce.
The obvious sticking point between the Villas is the fact that Gabriel sought and obtained a secret divorce behind Cristina’s back, but the second point is that he is now seeking to sell what would have been considered “community property” had the marriage remained intact. Below we explain community versus separate property.
WHAT IS “COMMUNITY PROPERTY”?
In states that follow community property laws, all the income and debts accrued, portions of retirements accounts, and all of the property acquired during the course of the marriage is considered “community property” that belongs to both spouses. This community property is divided upon divorce, annulment, or death. In the community property states any property that was owned before the marriage is considered “separate property.” Gifts or any money inherited by a spouse is also considered “separate property.” This property remains with the spouse after the divorce. Community property is usually divided equally during divorce. But it shouldn’t be thought of as one spouse gets one thing, and the other spouse gets the other. Rather, an amount is assigned to the asset or property, and then that is distributed equally between the two spouses.
PROTECTING YOURSELF DURING MARITAL PROPERTY DIVISION
Regardless of how your marital property is divided, you need to protect yourself. Your ex might not make the payments for various reasons – lack of money, spite, illness. In that case you might need to return to court or various other means of collecting the lost payment. Because of that, it’s often advised that you protect yourself by getting cash in hand once the divorce agreement is reached. If it’s decided that your ex will pay you out following the sale of an asset, wait until the sale is final, and then ensure you get the money to finalize your divorce.
WORKING WITH A DIVORCE ATTORNEY
If you are facing a divorce, you should work with a divorce attorney that can take a look at your specific situation and give you advice based on it, rather than approach it with a one size fits all mindset. Your specific situation will be particular to you and your marriage and the way your life was set up during the marriage. This might mean major financial decisions regarding retirement funds, property, child support and custody, and alimony. A divorce attorney will work with you to help you decide how you want to tackle these elements of your marriage and divorce, while also providing guidance and support. They will be able to lead you through the process while keeping you from procrastination and caving into pressure. They’ll also be able to help ensure you meet all the required timelines while ensuring that you get a fair case and trial should you need to go to court. Lastly, they’ll be able to help you find the freedom and new life you are seeking – one that is entirely on your terms.
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