The peace lasted about five years. But Murielle Fournier and Terry Power, whose split was the subject of a 2013 story in the Tampa Bay Times titled The divorce from hell, the battle for alimony and emptied pockets, are at it once again.
Their epic divorce, first filed in 2008, took five years, four judges, six lawyers and $400,000 in attorneys’ fees and court costs.
This time, their fighting escalated quickly. In January, a judge found Power in contempt and ordered police to pick him up and put him in jail.
But Power was long gone. He’d fled the state.
This is about a marriage that won’t die, a former wife who says she deserves more and an ex-husband who feels Florida’s divorce laws are antiquated and unfair.
They’d had a traditional marriage. Power worked as a retirement planner, making $250,000 a year, and Fournier stayed home, raising their two children, Meghan and Christopher. She cooked French meals and took her daughter around the world to compete as an ice skater. They lived lavishly, vacationing in Switzerland, Tahiti, France.
When the divorce finally ended in 2012, the final judgment noted that during the 18-year marriage, she sacrificed a chance for a professional life to care for the kids and advance her husband’s career.
The judge ordered Power to pay Fournier $1,500 a month in alimony. That was far less than the $5,400 a month and $50,000 cash he had offered her at the outset of the divorce, which she had refused.
Power felt like he’d won.
Fournier even had to give him $500 a month for child support. Power still owed her $87,000 for alimony he hadn’t paid while they battled in court, but the judge had not outlined a payment plan given the destruction of Power’s finances.
Then in November 2017, Power announced he was running for the Florida House of Representatives. He’d become a key player in the alimony reform movement, based on his grueling experience in Pinellas County. He believed divorce attorney fees should be capped and alimony needed to be a formula like child support.
But Power thinks the election, which he lost last year, triggered the reopening of his divorce case.
Fournier says she reached out to a lawyer after she noticed Power was spending a lot of money on his campaign. She had returned to the area in 2017 and gotten a job at a spa earning $1,222 a month. She moved into a 9-by-10-foot room in a friend’s house in Clearwater, because she couldn’t afford her own place. She wanted the $87,000 Power still owed her.
On June 4, two days after Power officially filed to run for the House of Representatives, Fournier’s lawyer, Andrew Reder, filed to reopen the divorce. The new filing observed that in a five-month period in the beginning of 2018, Power had donated $79,500 for his campaign. That seemed excessive, considering he still owed Fournier and he’d reported his income on a public disclosure form as $37,500. And he was telling everyone on the campaign trail that he would donate his salary to charity if elected.
Power believes his opponent, Florida House Rep. James Grant, was behind Fournier’s court action. Grant had hired an opposition research firm that spent $500 to copy Power’s entire divorce file. Power produced Facebook posts that showed Reder had campaigned for Grant as far back as 2010.
Grant acknowledged Reder was a friend, but he said he works for a well-known family law firm.
“Mr. Power’s actions are the only reason his divorce was reopened,” Grant said. “He chose to represent to the court that he was incapable of paying a judgment while representing to the state that the funds he put into his campaign were his alone.” Anyone “with an ounce of common sense and integrity” would recognize that as fraud, Grant said.
In court documents, Power said his campaign donations had come from a one-time bonus of $75,000 for work in 2018 related to a specific client.
Nonetheless, he offered his ex-wife $100,000 to pay off what he owed and settle the case, he said. Then $150,000.
Fournier, through her new attorney, said no. She wanted what she was owed, plus interest, and she also wanted $2,906 a month in lifetime alimony. The final judgment in the divorce had identified that amount as her “need” but had set Power’s “ability to pay” at $1,500.
The reason the former couple’s divorce can rise like a phoenix six years later is because Florida law allows a spouse to ask for a change in alimony, time-sharing or child support if there is a change in circumstances. It works both ways, so if someone’s finances plummet, he or she can ask to reduce alimony payments.
But as the requests for documents arrived, one after another, Power grew enraged.
Fournier and her lawyer wanted all records since 2014 from accounts Power owned individually and jointly with his girlfriend, Delores Trott. The list included monthly statements, cancelled checks, check registers, deposit slips, cashier checks, travelers’ checks, savings bonds and money orders, all receipts related to his living expenses paid by his girlfriend, all cash transfers between him and his girlfriend, all records of his ownership or stock options in the company he’d sold to his girlfriend during the divorce for $1, the past five years of federal income tax returns, lists of business furniture, fixtures and equipment, club memberships, his House campaign account reports and all records related to the loans to his campaign.
As months passed, 157 separate filings were made by both sides.
In October, a mediation failed, and Power stopped paying Fournier alimony.
Fournier’s lawyer asked the judge to hold Power in contempt and put him in jail for 364 days.
Power didn’t even go to that hearing on Jan. 24.
He posted on his Facebook page in February that he refused to comply with extortion. “So now I am in contempt of court, and I will remain in contempt.”
By then, he had already crossed the Florida border.
Pinellas County Circuit Judge Christopher LaBruzzo’s order of contempt is a civil procedure, but it allows police to pick up and incarcerate Power. The “writ of bodily attachment” has a picture of a smiling Power in a blue golf shirt standing in front of a row of dollar bills hanging from the rafters at Frankie’s Patriot BBQ. In the original image, taken from Power’s Twitter feed, he was standing next to Florida Sen. Jeff Brandes.
The judge had ordered Power to pay Fournier $6,000 in alimony and almost $5,000 in attorneys’ fees caused by his refusal to respond to the requests for documents. If he didn’t, he was subject to a $75-a-day fine.
Power ranted on Twitter:
“When will her attorney cue her in that he’s used her to get to me and that she’s not getting *any* more money? Asking for a friend #untouchable #divorce #alimony.”
In February, Power filed a response with the court. He said he hadn’t earned more than $40,000 a year since the divorce, and he had federal tax returns to prove it.
“If the Former Wife’s Contingency Fee Divorce Attorney knows of someone who is willing to hire an unlicensed 61-year-old financial planner who has a bankruptcy filing on his record and whose reputation has been destroyed by the relentless and vindictive actions online by former wife and her allies...I am open to an interview.”
Read the original story: The divorce from hell, the battle for alimony and emptied pockets
On Feb. 2, about 90 people gathered for a Florida Alimony Reform Political Action Committee meeting at the Holiday Inn in Celebration, just outside Walt Disney World. They were there to discuss a new alimony reform bill. Most were alimony payers, each with his or her own list of divorce court grievances.
Power had started the group in 2017.
Now he appeared via Skype on a jumbo screen in a red University of Georgia Bulldogs T-shirt.
“I guess you’re all wondering why I’m not there,” he said.
He explained that he faced arrest for the contempt order and said he would not be coming back to Florida until it was resolved. “I don’t look good in orange,” he said.
In the audience, Elvina and Lee Kallett nodded their heads. They had married long after Lee and his first wife divorced, but they say his ex-wife’s attorneys came after Elvina’s assets once Lee lost his job.
They say they had to divorce to protect her money, and Lee moved to Ohio.
A settlement was reached last year, and Lee and Elvina recently remarried.
“We’re 100 percent free of her,” Elvina said.
The reform bill would eliminate permanent alimony and allow alimony awards for only one half the length of the marriage. Alimony payments would stop at retirement, no matter what.
Such reforms have passed both the House and the Senate twice before in Florida, but former Gov. Rick Scott had vetoed them each time. Once because he didn’t like a child time-sharing provision in the bill and another time because it would have been retroactive to old divorces.
Now the group was scrambling for a sponsor for the 2019 legislative session. Sen. Kelli Stargel, a Republican from Lakeland who twice sponsored the bill, still supported the measure but was busy chairing the education subcommittee. Tom Lee, the Republican senator from Brandon, was willing to support it in the Senate but wanted to see others behind it, too.
Family lawyers oppose the legislation, as do many women who point out how some first wives even end up homeless.
As Power spoke to the group, two Osceola County deputies arrived at the hotel. They had heard Power might be at the conference.
Trott, Power’s girlfriend, explained that he was just on the screen. Did they want to come see?
The deputies left.
Trott recently packed up boxes at the couple’s home in Oldsmar. She and Power were about to list it for sale. She sat down at the dining room table and set up her tablet to talk to Power via Skype.
The couple has been together for 11 years. They met through a Craigslist ad after Power left Fournier, they say.
Power’s face popped up on the screen. He’d grown a beard.
The latest request from Fournier’s attorney was for $5,906 a month, he said, including the alimony he owed. Fournier’s lawyers wanted him to pay $20,000 in legal fees through January.
He shook his head.
“This is 10 years after I filed for divorce and they come back and want to redo the whole thing all over again.”
“Pathetic,” Trott replied.
Power was in Georgia at Trott’s sister’s house. He was leaving for Texas in a few days. She would join him later.
The couple had chosen Texas because of its alimony laws. They had notified the Pinellas clerk of the court of the new address.
Texas has never had permanent alimony. It has something called spousal maintenance, which is awarded only in rare instances as a rehabilitative measure when there are not enough assets. And once the couple is divorced, it’s over. You can’t come back and request spousal support.
That doesn’t mean that Power’s case switches over because he moved to Texas, said Sherri Evans, a member of the State Bar of Texas Family Law Section’s Legislative Committee. The order of the Florida judge would still be enforceable in Texas.
But David Anton, a family lawyer in Tampa for 32 years, said it’s very difficult to get other states to enforce those orders. Who is going to pay to put handcuffs around Power’s wrists and fly him back to Florida?
On the fourth floor of the Pinellas County Courthouse, Fournier, 56, sat with her lawyer, Reder, on a wooden bench discussing the divorce hearing that was about to begin. It was a Monday morning in March.
A parade of Fournier’s and Power’s former divorce lawyers happened by them in the busy courthouse, curious.
“Is this still going on?” asked Ty Zdravko, a Palm Harbor attorney who had represented Power during a portion of the original divorce.
“Yes,” she replied. “He fled to Texas.”
Inside the courtroom, Judge LaBruzzo noted Power’s absence, then picked up a phone to call the now-wanted man. Power happened to be driving back from the driver’s license office in Dallas when the judge called. LaBruzzo cheerfully got the hearing underway, allowing Power, who had fired his latest lawyer, to represent himself by phone.
During the nearly three-hour hearing, Reder went through his client’s requests one by one. Fournier sought to garnish Power’s paycheck for alimony. Reder also wanted to depose his girlfriend. And Fournier wanted him to pay her attorneys’ fees and court costs, estimated at more than $40,000.
“A lot of these fees were incurred due to Mr. Power’s refusal to comply with discovery obligations,” Reder said.
Fournier testified that her checking account held a total of $352.
“I’m living on $10 an hour,” she said.
Reder asked her how this differed from her marriage.
“During our marriage, we lived in a 5,400-square-foot house,” she said. “We went on vacations. My kids went to private school. They had private tutors. My job was to be a stay-at-home mom. I always made gourmet meals for my family. ... I picked them up from school, I volunteered in the library at school.”
She said she hired an attorney because she was told that was the only way to get the money she was owed.
“I really thought today was going to be the end of it,” she continued, “and it keeps going on and on.”
Then Power questioned his ex-wife.
Had she posted on Twitter a picture of his head superimposed on the body of a prisoner with handcuffs?
“Somebody posted that, yes,” she responded.
Had she posted a photo with Power’s head superimposed on Fred Flintstone with the words Grand Puba?”
“Somebody posted a picture of Mr. Power’s head on a puba, yes,” she responded.
After Fournier testified, the judge asked Power what evidence he’d like to present.
“This is nothing but a giant fishing expedition,” Power said, his voice on speaker phone.
He said he’d like to settle the divorce. LaBruzzo told him to talk to Reder. Then he ruled that Power’s pay could be garnished for the back alimony, and he had to pay Fournier $20,000 for Fournier’s legal fees.
Days later, the Florida Alimony Reform Political Action Committee secured sponsors to file the reform bill again. Power had called looking for sponsors.
And on Tuesday, Power retired from the pension company he started 19 years ago.
“There’s a good chance I’ll never come back,” Power said. “I’m not optimistic that this will be resolved.”
An avid pilot, he thought about flying relief missions in a single-engine airplane. He liked helping out during Hurricane Irma. And if they come for him in Texas, well, there is always Costa Rica.
An earlier version of this story misidentified Judge Joseph Bulone in a cutline.
An audio recording of a portion of Terry Power’s speech to the Florida Alimony Reform PAC was provided by the Ayo & Iken law firm in Tampa. Leonora LaPeter Anton can be reached at [email protected]