When You Can (and Can’t) Get Your Florida Divorce Settlement Thrown Out Due to Coercion or Duress

Sometimes, divorces cases can be amicable or straightforward…or even both. Other times, though, they are the furthest thing from amicable or straightforward. Parties may seek to use whatever they have at their disposal that they think will give them leverage in getting the outcome they want. Sometimes, they engage in improper tactics. When that happens, there may be recourse for the spouse who was harmed by the other spouse’s improper conduct. As with almost any legal issue, however, the law only gives you a limited time to act. That’s why, if you think you’ve been a victim of coercion or duress in your divorce settlement, or that your spouse has otherwise acted improperly, you should talk to an experienced Florida divorce attorney right away.

One recent case from North Florida involved an apparently salacious example of potential coercion or duress. The underlying action was a complicated divorce litigation case involving a Jacksonville-area attorney and his wife. At some point while the divorce case was going forward, the husband encountered a serious problem. He had a mistress, and his wife had pictures of her husband and the other woman. The appeals court’s opinion stated that the wife “allegedly obtained” pictures of the husband and mistress that were “of a private nature.” The appeals court’s opinion did not elaborate further on the exact “private nature” of the images or precisely how the wife came to be in possession of those photos.

Regardless, the wife allegedly used the photos as leverage, threatening the husband with their public release if he did not agree to settle the couple’s divorce case on terms she preferred. In his court papers, the husband asserted that the divorce mediator told the husband that, if he did not give the wife “what she wanted,” he’d end up owing alimony, child support, and the wife’s attorneys’ fees, in addition to receiving no timesharing with the couple’s children. The husband capitulated to the wife’s demands.

Almost three years later, the husband filed an action in Jacksonville, asking a judge to throw out the final divorce judgment to which he had consented. The husband’s argument was that the wife’s “strong-arm and extortionate tactics” were improper and were so egregious that they amounted to a “fraud upon the court.”

The trial court dismissed the husband’s case. The court of appeal upheld that dismissal. The reason the husband was not allowed to go forward with his arguments was a simple one:  he was too late in acting. (Yes, sometimes even lawyers can fall victim of waiting too long to pursue their rights in court.) The law does allow a party who consented to a divorce settlement as a result of coercion or duress to use that coercion or duress as the basis for obtaining an order throwing out the divorce judgment. The law also, though, defines these acts of coercion and duress as something called “intrinsic fraud,” and cases in which the plaintiff is asserting intrinsic fraud must be filed within one year after the original judgment was entered.

In this couple’s case, the husband filed more than two and one-half years after the judgment was entered, so the statute of limitations prevented him from pursuing his case.

When it comes to pursuing your rights in court, time is often limited. Wait too long to act and you lose, regardless of how strong your case was. For determined and intelligent representation, talk to the skilled South Florida family law attorneys at Sandy T. Fox, P.A. Our team has been representing people in divorce, timesharing, and other family law cases for many years and are well-versed in all of the related laws and rules. Contact our attorneys online or by calling (800) 596-0579 to schedule your confidential consultation.

More blog posts:

When You Can Set Aside a Marital Settlement Agreement in Florida, Fort Lauderdale Divorce Lawyer Blog, Aug. 12, 2015

Be Careful to Avoid Coercion When Seeking Spouse’s Signature on Prenuptial Agreement, Fort Lauderdale Divorce Lawyer Blog, Dec. 27, 2013