In 2010, Ms. O’Conner came to Choice Plus LLC for assistance. She had an outstanding family support judgement against her ex-husband in the total of more than $177,000. In her efforts to recoup this money, O’Conner sought the help of Choice Plus, LLC to receive a partial payment of her judgment by claiming her husband’s unclaimed property held by the state of Florida. The unclaimed property claim amounted to $32,302.87.
However, when the unclaimed property attorney from Choice Plus LLC went to court to seek a judicial assignment, the Florida Unclaimed Property Department intervened. Instead of assisting in the effort to place the unclaimed property with an appropriate recipient, they blocked Ms. O’Conner’s action.
The Department claimed that Ms. O’Conner was a creditor because she sought the unclaimed property to satisfy an unpaid amount that had been ordered under the family support judgement (the $177,000+ of spousal and child support). They stated that, as a creditor, she did not have a right to the unclaimed property to satisfy an amount due under the family support judgement because the money was in possession of the state.
As a result, Ms. O’Conner could not claim her ex-husband’s property.
The Second Appeal
In the first opinion issued by the appellate court, the court had stated that Ms. O’Conner could collect the unclaimed property after she filed a claim. But after she did so, the Department denied the claim again on the same ground it argued previously.
Undaunted, we at Choice Plus PLLC and Ms. O’Conner began again. We established with the court that, although she was a creditor, she had a legal interest in her ex-husband’s property, which made her an owner. These ownership rights gave her the authority to collect the unclaimed property. This time, the judge recognized and granted her request.
Then the Department of Unclaimed Property appealed the judge’s ruling. This made legal proceedings drag on further as the appeal was processed through the appellate court.
Finally, in January 2015, after over five years of legal proceedings, the appellate court issued a second opinion. In this statement, they affirmed that Ms. O’Conner had ownership rights of the property and that, under unclaimed property legislation, those rights entitled her to claim the unclaimed property held by her ex-husband. In the end, the Department was ordered to pay her claim.
A Turning Point in Unclaimed Property Cases in Florida
A new court precedent for unclaimed property decisions has been set by the Florida State 1st District Court of Appeals in Ms. O’Conner’s case (Case No. 1D13-5743).This triumph has marked a turning point for these types of cases in the state of Florida. Our work with Ms. O’Conner’s case has set a court precedent, which influences the outcome of similar cases that will arise in the future. Already, across the state, the attitude has begun to change and settlements on these types of claims are now being offered.
In prior years, the encumbrance inflicted upon those in this type of situation (an ex-spouse claiming unclaimed property in order to satisfy an outstanding family support judgement) was similar and the majority of these individuals had been denied their claims.
After years of persistent work, Choice Plus PLLC and Ms. O’Conner have won not only their claim, but they’ve also helped the state take steps in the right direction when it comes to unclaimed property laws.