Asset protection planning deals mostly with civil money judgments. When it comes to family law, there are fewer asset protection options available to avoid awards of alimony and support of a former spouse. For example, judges in divorce cases can order an allocation of retirement accounts which are exempt from regular judgment creditors. The homestead exemption is the strongest asset protection tool, but does it work equally well in a family law context. A caller asked me whether a court can force the sale of a former spouse’s homestead property to pay court awarded child support or alimony.
There is at least one case which held that a spouse could force the sale of a Florida homestead to enforce a support order. In that case, the court reasoned that the purpose of the homestead protection is to protect the debtor’s family, and that the debtor cannot hide behind the homestead shield to the detriment of those family members it was designed to protect.
More recent decisions have held that there is no alimony or support exemption to homestead protection. If the creditor spouse can demonstrate that the spouse who owns the homestead property acted fraudulently, reprehensibly, or egregiously to acquire or use the homestead exemption to avoid paying an alimony or support order then the court could impose an equitable lien on the homestead property. However, I think most courts will agree that a former spouse cannot force the sale of homestead to fund an alimony or support obligation.