COLORADO SPRINGS — When someone uses a medical illness to continue or modify spousal support payments they receive, who actually follows up to see if that person is being truthful with the courts?
The answer---no one.
This woman's attorney claims she's too sick to work, but how long should someone be responsible to pay alimony following a marriage?
Through her attorney, Helga Czarnecki is requesting the courts consider increasing spousal support more than 10-years after her divorce.
In marriages that last 12.5 years or longer, Colorado judges can order one party to pay spousal support for half the length of the marriage.
Yet court records reviewed by KOAA News 5 Investigates show in this case, spousal payments are continuing much longer.
As News 5 Investigates learned, judges are given discretion over these types of proceedings.
According to Colorado attorney Stephen Longo, in 2018, Colorado lawmakers passed legislation related to spousal support by a creating a chart showing how long someone may be expected to pay alimony following a divorce.
Longo reiterated to News 5 that these are just guidelines---not set policies that judges must follow.
Divorce cases often involve emotions, according to Longo. Sometimes, these cases can get tied up in the courts for several years----like this one.
"I just don't think the courts have a way to follow up on things," Greg Czarnecki said.
Greg is frustrated having to pay spousal support to his ex-wife following a 14-year marriage that ended more than a decade ago.
Court records show Greg was ordered to pay his ex-wife, Helga, $1,400/mo. from 2009-2013.
In 2014, those payments were reduced to $600 a month, then to $300 a month beginning in December 2017.
By this time, 7 years had passed---half the length of the marriage.
Still, Greg was not off the hook for payments.
He's been paying $100/mo. since 2018.
Greg wants the payments to end now and believes his ex-wife is taking advantage of the civil court system.
11 years after the divorce, Helga's attorney has filed paperwork with the EL Paso County courts to not only continue spousal payments, but increase the amount back to $600 a month because of a series of reported medical issues that are preventing Helga from working.
"Her health has deteriorated in 2021 and continues to deteriorate at a more rapid pace," Attorney R. Gregory Haller said in a June 2021 court filing.
In a court hearing that month, Helga is heard on audio appearing to be sick---gagging and coughing.
"She's coughing and gagging so severely and at one point, she falls down," Greg's new wife, Teresa, said.
"She fell," Helga's attorney can be heard saying to the courts.
After some times passes, the coughing continues.
Greg and Teresa say any time alimony payments are about to end or potentially get reduced, Helga seems to have some major medical illness to inform the courts about.
"If someone could just follow her on a daily basis and see how she is when she goes to the grocery store," Teresa said. "All we can do is show before and after videos of when she is not being watched, how she is, and then the videos of when she is in the courtroom, how she is."
Several years ago, the courts heard from one of Helga's former employers who said that until 2012, Helga was fully capable of working with a building maintenance company.
However, her reported illnesses at the time prevent her from carrying out her abilities to "lift" or perform "other physical activities".
Fast forward to 2021:
Three days before Helga's court hearing where you can hear her collapsing and coughing, Helga's nextdoor neighbor recorded video from her home.
In it, Helga appears to walk fine and has no issues moving around her backyard and lifting and moving a black plastic water pond liner.
Then there's video Teresa sent to us that Helga reportedly posted on her Facebook page in 2017---appearing to show her dancing with a male stripper in a club.
It's video Teresa says will be submitted as legal discovery evidence in their upcoming hearing.
The couple believes this video footage isn't indicative of a woman who is too sick to work and care for themselves.
"I just don't understand why the courts didn't every year, follow up with medical proof that she's still sick," Teresa said. "Even if she is sick, as people age, people get sick. Things happen to them. People get cancer, so does that mean every ex-husband has to support their ex through every illness for the rest of their life?"
Greg and Teresa are concerned about the checks and balances process with divorce cases like theirs.
Despite Helga providing the courts with prior documentation showing she has medical issues, the couple is calling her illnesses into question now after learning Helga is actively advertising on the Internet as a caregiver.
"If you're qualified to take care of people's loved ones, you'd think you'd be qualified to take care of yourself," Greg said.
Helga's attorney told the courts in a recent filing that she was employed as a caregiver in 2019 and 2020.
"In 2021, (Helga) was taking care of just one client due to her pain and health problems, and could not work at all beginning the last week of May," attorney R. Gregory Haller stated.
Evidence News 5 Investigates gathered on its own appears to contradict this.
On July 14, Helga met a News 5 employee at a local Starbucks in Colorado Springs after we reached out via a Nextdoor Ad she posted.
During that meeting, Helga disclosed to us that she has four clients----and says one of her clients pays her $2,000 a month.
The disclosure of multiple clients Helga has directly disputes statements Helga's attorney has presented in court documents.
Teresa and Greg say they intend to bring up what we uncovered in their next court hearing related to alimony.
"It just seems like an uphill battle to prove things," Greg said.
Unfortunately, proving matters in civil court can come with a price tag.
Judges do not provide court-appointed private investigators to prove whether someone is being truthful in court.
"She (Helga) just keeps coming back and coming back," Teresa said. "She said she wants $25,000, but it may even cost us that and more to prove she's lying."
Greg and Teresa have hired an attorney to fight Helga's request for additional payments.
News 5 Investigates reached out to both Helga and her attorney for comment.
After multiple phone calls, Helga's attorney, R. Gregory Haller responded by saying he had "no comment" at this time because of pending litigation.
Understanding alimony in Colorado:
"In 2018, Colorado passed legislation that basically gave the court guidelines, not strict rules," Longo explained. "It roughly works out to half the time of the marriage. If you've been married for 20 years, the chart allows for 10 years of spousal support and in special circumstances if you've been married 20 years it can be for life."
How are payments generally determined?
"The general calculation is going to take the higher wage earner in the marriage on the annual or monthly basis and take 40 percent of that number so if they make $10,000 a month, you take $4,000 and then half the amount of the lower wage earner," Longo said. "Let's say that's $5,000 a month and you take the 40 percent and subtract it from the 50 percent so if the higher wage earner makes $10,000 a month and the lower wage earner makes $5,000 a month, it will be $4,000 minus the $2,500 so the monthly support would be $1,500."
Longo adds that the "burden" for any spousal support changes falls on the person asking for the change in the agreement.
To avoid constant changes or the potential of being back in court on a frequent basis, he says some parties will agree to sign what's called a "non-modifiable agreement".
News 5 will follow up on the Czarnecki court case as it makes its way through the system.
Need our help? Email us: Eric.Ross@KOAA.com