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$800M International Divorce Spurs Allegations of Misconduct Against Lawyers in New York

Two of Costa Rica’s titans of finance and real estate development have been embroiled in a divorce valued at some $800 million.

The action has now spilled over the nation’s borders, with one spouse allegedly seeking refuge in Nicaragua to find more favorable divorce laws, and another launching an action here in New York to hold her former attorneys – who she says secretly conspired with her estranged husband to hide wealth and assets around the globe – accountable.

Jaime Javier Montealegre and Maria Margarita Herdocia are both Nicaraguan nationals who attended the Wharton School of Business.

The couple married in 1983, and spent the decade in New York where Montealegre worked for Citicorp, helping to restructure the debt of Latin American countries and structuring large deals for corporate clients.

In 1987, he decided to strike out on his own and worked as a trader and principal for Latin American companies operating overseas, managing their offshore liabilities.

In 1992, the couple moved to Costa Rica and Montealegre founded the Sigma Group, which manages offshore funds and specializes in emerging markets.

Both are real estate investors and developers, with millions of square feet of commercial and resort properties in Costa Rica under their helm.

Herdocia’s name even cropped up in the infamous Panama Papers, and whether or not that suggests anything improper, it does speak to the vast wealth the couple has amassed during their decades together.

They also have three sons, now adults, and the family’s vacations have included a trip to the Superbowl.

According to a lawsuit filed with the New York Supreme Court, Herdocia believes that the Manhattan firm of Fox Horan & Camerini LLP, which has represented the couple for some 25 years, played both sides when she retained them to represent her during her divorce actions.

Herdocia believes that partners in the firm were working with her husband to hide assets around the globe, while nominally representing her personal and divorce interests.

According to the 24-page complaint, “At the same time plaintiff was consulting with the Fox firm about those assets – as well as seeking personal advice – partners in that firm had secretly chosen sides and were actively helping plaintiff’s husband conceal and … transfer assets.

In short, the Fox firm and its partners chose to violate their fiduciary duties to plaintiff, their longtime client, by actively conspiring with her husband against her personal and financial interests.

The Fox firm and its partners have chosen sides, continuing to work to the detriment of one joint client at the behest and for the benefit of another.”

Herdocia claims that Fox Horan attorneys advised her against divorcing in Costa Rica, where the legal system is, in their estimation, “messy.”

At the same time, she alleges that Fox Horan was advising her husband on how to get around Costa Rican divorce law and helping him file across the border in Nicaragua.

While both parties are Nicaraguan nationals, they’ve never lived in the country during their 30 years together, but Nicaraguan divorce laws are more favorable to Montealegre’s case.

Montealegre has gone so far as to argue that there are no marital assets to distribute between the two, which would certainly prompt an angry response from the accomplished woman he has called his wife for 30 years.

Herdocia says that Fox Horan & Camerini have committed breach of fiduciary duty and violated the norms of professional conduct.

The suit names partner Donald T. Fox, among others.

Fox is a litigator with a long portfolio of European business acquisition deals who eventually branched out into Latin American business representation because of his fluency in Spanish.

She also names her husband in the suit, claiming he induced a breach of fiduciary duty, and alleges tortious interference against all of the named parties.

According to the suit, Montealegre is so set on relying on Nicaragua’s divorce laws that he fled Costa Rica in April, moving his residence and offices to his home country.

Meanwhile, Herdocia is seeking a court order in New York to prevent Fox Horan & Camerini from repping her husband in the divorce, as well as compensatory damages of more than $10 million.

In a divorce, couples are going to be splitting their things as they split up, but what happens when both spouses have long ties to their trusted legal representatives?

A law firm has clear rules and ethical requirements in cases like this, but according to Herdocia, those safeguards may not have been adequate in her divorce, resulting in potentially substantial damages to her financial standing.

It’s important to protect your financial future during a divorce case.

If the allegations in the case are borne out, it would suggest a significant conflict, possibly informed by the longstanding personal relationships built between the parties.

It’s vital that you have truly independent legal guidance when you seek to end a marriage, particularly one where high-dollar assets and business interests are a factor.

But even where your chief concern is simply a fair settlement and maintaining a close relationship with your children, working with an attorney who may have allegiances to your spouse can cause problems in a case that you could otherwise win.

Instead of relying on the lawyers who’ve represented both of you in the past, talk to dedicated matrimonial law attorneys who specialize in divorce cases.

At Zelenitz, Shapiro & D’Agostino, we offer all potential clients a free initial consultation so they can get to know us, how we practice, and whether we’re the right firm to represent their interests in their divorce.

Our experienced team of Queens divorce attorneys are aggressive negotiators who fight for our clients’ priorities, and we’re proud of the great work we do on behalf of people going through even complex divorces involving property distribution and contested child custody.

If you’re considering divorce in Queens, call the attorneys at Zelenitz, Shapiro & D’Agostino today at 718-523-1111 for a free consultation with an experienced Queens divorce lawyer.