Erika Jayne, a star of Bravo’s The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, stunned her fans on November 3, 2020, by announcing the end of her 21-year marriage to attorney Tom Girardi, citing “irreconcilable differences.” Jayne made the announcement as news of a barrage of lawsuits filed against Girardi and his law firm, Girardi Keese, started to surface. The pair has reportedly been accused by Girardi’s former clients of misappropriating millions of dollars in settlement money meant for the families of the victims of a 2018 plane crash.
A lawsuit was filed against Jayne and Girardi earlier this month by Chicago law firm Edelson PC, a firm representing the families of passengers who lost their lives on Lion Air Flight 610 in 2018. The lawsuit accuses the couple of embezzling funds meant to go to the crash victims’ families. Boeing reportedly reached individual settlements with clients and families represented by Girardi Keese and Edelson in the case.
The airline manufacturer has already transferred about $2 million for each plaintiff for the 2018 crash, according to the press, but the families haven’t received all their money. The suit outlines multiple attempts by Edelson to find out whether the clients had been paid by Girardi Keese, purportedly resulting in mixed responses. It also claims Jayne and Girardi used the proceeds to finance their “notoriously lavish lifestyles,” pointing to the $40,000 per month Jayne allegedly spends on her hair, makeup, and clothing as one such example.
Girardi, whose net worth was once estimated to be $264 million, denied allegations of financial impropriety. “At one point, I had about 80 million or 50 million in cash. That’s all gone,” Girardi said at an unspecified case this fall, according to the Los Angeles Times. “I don’t have any money.”
The Edelson lawsuit has called Jayne and Girardi’s divorce a “sham” to protect their money from seizure and turnover, according to sources. Since funds and other assets earned and received during marriage are considered marital assets subject to division during a divorce in California, the lawsuit accuses Girardi of trying to pass the assets to Jayne as her share of the marital estate.
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How Will Erika Jayne and Tom Girardi’s Fortune be Divided?
Jayne has stated in interviews that she never signed a prenuptial agreement, as she believed Girardi, who amassed billions of dollars in client settlements throughout his long career, would have easily rendered the agreement unenforceable.
California is a community property state, which means everything a married couple earns or purchases over the course of their marriage is considered both of the spouses’ property. The law specifically requires divorcing couples to divide all community property in half.
“Property” under California law refers to anything bought or sold by the couple; this can include real estate, cars, furniture, and clothing. It also includes anything that has value, such as bank accounts and cash, pension plans, 401(k) plans, stocks, businesses, patents, and security deposits on apartments.
The division of the divorced couple’s assets is based on the net value of the community property. That means the amount divided is the total value of the couple’s assets minus the total amount of the couple’s debts. Separate debts do not count toward this figure.
Avoiding Fraudulent Asset Transfer During a California Divorce
Fraudulent transfer in order to avoid disclosure of assets during divorce proceedings is nothing new. A spouse may transfer assets to a family member by selling a home or business for far below market price, or by purchasing a vehicle and placing its title and registration under another person’s name.
In Erika Jayne and Tom Girardi’s case, the court may find any assets transferred from Girardi to Jayne to be fraudulent and intended to further deprive his debtors and clients of the assets they allege rightfully belong to them. Jayne could then be brought into the lawsuit as a defendant in possession of stolen funds, and whatever assets she receives from the divorce could be turned over to Girardi’s former clients once a judgment is entered against her.
We likely won’t see the outcome of the embezzlement suits filed against Girardi and Jayne until at least 2021. In addition to the Lion Air lawsuit, Girardi is facing multiple lawsuits related to his law firm. He and his firm are being sued by a bank for allegedly failing to make payments on lease agreements; he faces an additional lawsuit from his former law firm partner that seeks to dissolve a business venture they had together; and there are several suits from former clients claiming they have not received their full settlement.
Using a divorce settlement to protect assets from debtors is considered fraud and can be the basis of criminal and civil charges. A divorcing couple will be required to sign a financial affidavit that outlines all their joint assets. Falsely signing this document is considered perjury, and it carries penalties that include up to four years of jail time.
If you’re going through a divorce in California and fear your spouse has fraudulently transferred assets to avoid legal division, then you should call A People’s Choice for help today at 1-800-747-2780. Our registered legal document assistants can help you to learn more about how you can file for divorce in California and protect yourself from fraudulently transferred assets.