One of the stranger divorce stories to hit the tabloid press this year now has a new wrinkle.
In January, the New York Post and others wrote up the strange case of Gabriel Villa, 90, and his wife – perhaps – Cristina Carta Villa, 60.
The gist of things is that Gabriel appears to have taken some rather radical steps to protect his wealth in the event of divorce – by secretly divorcing his wife in the Dominican Republic just months after they wed in 1994.
It would be easy to argue that a prenuptial agreement, or even a post-nuptial agreement, would have been a clearer path to the outcome he wanted, but according to court records, that isn’t the approach that Villa opted for.
Last year, after the couple had been together for more than 21 years, Cristina saw a tax bill for their Manhattan condo on West 55th Street and noticed that her name wasn’t on it.
When she began looking into the matter, she learned something truly incredible: Shortly after they married, her husband had retained lawyers for both of them in the Dominican Republic and completed a secret divorce on the island on the grounds of “incompatibility of temperaments.”
Villa had a successful career as a lawyer and then travel agent, while Cristina had taught Italian literature at Boston College prior to marrying him.
You might think the secret divorce would put a crimp in their relationship, but you would be wrong. As any wife would expect, the two have lived together in the aforementioned Manhattan condo and had a son, Lorenzo, who they’ve raised.
They’ve jet-setted between homes in New York and France, enjoying the good life together. They also have a home in Massachusetts.
If their 30-year age difference has impacted them, it hasn’t been outwardly visible to friends and associates.
Cristina is Gabriel’s healthcare proxy and has acted as his power of attorney during health crises over the years. They are, in most respects, a typical married couple, maybe with a greater age difference than usual.
But it seemed to work, as far as everyone knew. Because no one knew they’d been divorced the whole time.
When Cristina learned about the secret Dominican divorce, she was able to trace the change of title on their home back many years.
Though Gabriel never filed the divorce decree with the state of New York, it seems that he presented it to relevant authorities to put their physical property in his own name.
Cristina claims that she was never informed of the Dominican divorce, did not provide consent to the hiring of attorneys or the divorce itself, and never agreed to a settlement in the action.
By January, she had filed suit to have the Dominican divorce, and the property changes that resulted from it, nullified by a Manhattan judge. The couple never lived in the Dominican Republic, and Cristina describes the divorce there as “a fraud.”
She claims that the divorce wouldn’t even be legally enforceable in the Dominican Republic, since neither party appeared in court there, let alone New York, where her husband seemed to believe the action was flimsy enough not to try to file it with the state.
Cristina believes her husband was scheming to sell their condo to his adult daughter, Marina Villa, who currently resides in Rome. If the condo, which is worth approximately $1.4 million, were to be sold without Cristina on the title, she’d have no claim to the profits, and essentially be robbed by her husband.
As the case has progressed, it has gotten nastier.
This week, the New York Post reported that Villa is alleging that his wife has maintained a sexual relationship with a man described as “SP” in court filings since 2008. Villa claims the man resides in Paris and has been his wife’s lover for the last eight years.
Cristina is not quoted in that story, but it’s hard to see how such an allegation in a lawsuit seeking to nullify an alleged divorce from fourteen years before it began would be germane to the case.
If Gabriel Villa engaged in fraud in 1994 to transfer property out of his wife’s name, that matter would have little or nothing to do with allegations of infidelity in the late 2000s.
It’s likely at this point that Villa’s legal team has decided to simply kick up as much dust as possible to obscure the arguments in the case.
While the couple apparently hasn’t filed for divorce in New York, the lawsuit pending between them appears to have taken on many of the characteristics of a typical divorce, with allegations of misconduct and betrayal flying with each new filing.
It’s an unfortunate development in a lengthy marriage that appears to have given both parties so much.
There are simpler, more straightforward, and more ethical ways to protect important property when you get married and after you’ve been married.
Discussions with your fiance or spouse about prenuptial and post-nuptial agreements can be complicated, but when it comes to providing the protection you need, they’ll nearly always be your best bet.
Courts have strong incentives to uphold freely-entered-into contracts between two informed parties, but little reason to protect a foreign divorce was that may have been handled fraudulently and in secret.
If you have concerns about asset distribution in the event of a divorce in Brooklyn, talk to an experienced prenuptial and post-nuptial attorney today.
At Zelenitz, Shapiro & D’Agostino, we’ve helped clients from all walks of life start their marriages with clarity and certainty, or visit and address issues between them after they’ve been married.
Prenups and post-nups aren’t always a walk in the park, but they can keep you from the kind of grinding public dispute that the Villas are currently living with, and can save you lots of time and money in the event that your marriage does end.
Our attorneys are experienced matrimonial law practitioners who know how to draft complete, thorough, enforceable pre- and post-nuptial agreements.
Call us today at 718-725-9601 for a free consultation with a Brooklyn marital contracts attorney.