Single mom takes deadbeat dad’s home
If Joette Pitts isn’t a trailblazer, she’s certainly a pioneer.
Pitts, a single mother who lives in Eagle, has done something few, if any, single parents have ever done before: She has forced the sale of her child’s father’s home to recover a portion of child support owed her 17-year-old son, Michael. The home, located in Fruita, was sold at a sheriff’s auction in Grand Junction on Thursday.
The sale didn’t raise much. By the time the mortgage is paid and the attorneys get their share, Pitts will end up with a bit less than $20,000. But, she said, “That’s more than I had.”
Pitts is a career construction worker who has raised three sons, mostly by herself. For the past couple of years she’s worked for Ed Woodland and Lars Johnson, a pair of attorneys who own Eagle-based NexGen Constructors.
While he doesn’t practice family law, Woodland said after getting to know Pitts, he was eager to do what he could. “Even though you don’t know that area of the law, you want to help,” he said. While local attorney Mary Lou Keller handled the family law elements of the case, Woodland and Johnson’s experience as attorneys in the construction business helped force the sale of the home in Fruita.
“We approached this like a mechanic’s lien foreclosure,” said Woodland, who has plenty of experience with that sort of action. Convincing a judge that a child support judgment was like a mechanic’s lien was treading in unknown territory, though. The main problem is while county social service agencies can garnish wages and otherwise put a call in on assets, those agencies cannot launch foreclosure actions.
“It’s kind of a Catch-22 in the law,” said Woodland.
Without a clear path to pursue, Woodland, Johnson and Keller started to pick their way through the law last May. “We asked around a lot,” said Woodland. “We talked to (District Judge Richard) Hart, we talked to people in the Eagle County attorney’s office, and they said ‘Try it; we don’t know what will happen.'”
Woodland worked up financial models to determine what Michael’s father, Venues Trujillo, owed in child support over the years. Pitts established in 1986 that Trujillo was Michael’s father, and obtained a court order for roughly $350 per month in child support, as well as half of his medical bills. Those medical bills have been significant, since Michael has had ear infections severe enough to require surgery.
Over the years, Pitts kept records of how much child support Trujillo paid and when, as well as records of Michael’s medical expenses. Those records, Woodland said, were crucial to the case.
While Trujillo said he paid child support “when I could,” those payments fell far short of what the 1986 court order required. Woodland said the total child support and medical payments due over the last 17 years add up to about $69,000. After factoring in what Trujillo paid over the year, there was still an outstanding balance of more than $57,000. With interest – which has been compounded monthly since state law changed in 1994 – the total amount owed is $216,000.
With numbers and records in hand, Woodland, Larson and Keller went to a judge in Arapahoe County, where the last judgment against Trujillo was issued, and sought a foreclosure order for Trujillo’s house, the only asset he had in his name. Trujillo did not contest the motion and a judge issued the order.
Asked why he didn’t contest the action, Trujillo said simply, “I’m not going to fight about it. She’s always wanted this house, and now she’s got it.”
Trujillo added he believes the sale of the house ends the support payment dispute. That may not be the case, though. Woodland said with the sale order, Pitts will be able to automatically attach any payment Trujillo gets from any state or government agency the rest of his life.
While Pitts said she’ll be happy with whatever the sale raised, she added that the principal of the matter is more important than the money.
“My only hope is that other women in my shoes can do this, too,” said Pitts. “If a man has property, you can put a lien on it, and then you’ve got a foothold. What makes a difference here is showing deadbeat dads you can’t beat the system.”
“Property is property,” Woodland added. “If you know where it is, you can go get it.” But, he added, the order wouldn’t have been issued without Pitts’ meticulous record-keeping. “If it wasn’t for all she did, this wouldn’t have happened,” he said.
Both Woodland and Pitts said they will be happy to share the work they’ve done with anyone else attempting to recover child support. To reach Woodland and NexGen Constructors, call 328-4946.
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