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Widow tries to void her divorce in court

Can a divorce in Massachusetts or anyplace be voided after the ex-spouse has died? That is what a Rhode Island woman is seeking from the Family Court of Newport County in a petition filed last July. She is essentially seeking to rescind a divorce she says was a fake.

The woman's "ex" husband died in 2006 at age 67, leaving an estate of close to $18 million. The woman is one of three co-executors to the will. The federal tax return for the estate claimed a marital deduction for her. The IRS rejected the deduction and issued a fraud penalty, assessing the estate a total of nearly $3 million in taxes and penalty.

The woman claims she lived happily with her husband from the 1980's until his death in 2006. However, in 1993 he told her was filing for divorce because he could not otherwise leave any real estate and his pension proceeds to his son from a prior marriage. He instructed her not to interfere, and they continued living together happily albeit as a technically divorced couple.

She now claims her deceased ex-husband obtained the divorce by fraud as there were no irreconcilable differences between them at the time of the purported divorce. No action has been taken yet by the Newport Family Court, and the application has been set down for a motion hearing for September 29.

Lawyers for the estate have also petitioned the U.S. Tax Court to rule that it properly used the marital deduction in filing the tax return. For its part, the government filed a civil suit in the U.S. District Court in Providence. It accuses the widow of attempting to void her divorce in an "improper and collusive attempt" to claim a marital tax deduction on her ex-husband's estate.

The court battle is now proceeding on three fronts.

Unfortunately, what appeared to be a marriage to the outside world may not have still been legally recognized as a marriage in the eyes of the courts. The case underscores the point of protecting one's interests and anticipating future issues when obtaining a divorce, no matter what the underlying intentions of the parties appear to be.

In Massachusetts, an attorney experienced in handling all aspects of a divorce may provide some insight and assistance for a person concerned about complex marital and divorce matters.

Source: The Boston News, "Feds: RI divorcee seeks $1.7M marital deduction," Laura Crimaldi, Aug. 18, 2011

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