In today’s world, it seems like there is never enough time to do many of the things we are tasked with doing on a daily basis. It always seems like there is somewhere to go, some errand to be run, someone to see, or something that keeps us from accomplishing the many things we try to fit into our daily lives. When divorce enters the picture, this problem can be compounded. Many people are not prepared for how challenging divorce can be on their schedule, especially if they have not taken the time to prepare for the demands that accompany a divorce. Meeting with your attorney, court appearances, and other obligations related to divorce can be extremely time-consuming and costly. Often, people try to put these things off until a more convenient time arises, but that is not always a luxury when it comes to any legal process. Other times, people want to hold onto their relationship and believe ignoring portions of the divorce process will allow them to do so, but it does not.
Sometimes, even though most people understand how important it is to comply with the divorce process, life and/or pride can get in the way of following through in a way that is acceptable under the law with the various aspects of the divorce process. This can result in what is known as a default judgment, which can be entered by a Florida court for a number of different reasons and can have a potentially serious negative impact on the party against whom it has been entered. The following information provides a little more insight as to what default divorce judgments are and some options that may be available to you in facing them.
What is a Default Judgment in Divorce?
Once a petition for divorce has been properly filed, divorce papers will be served on the other spouse. The divorce papers will inform the other spouse of the next steps he or she must take in the divorce process, which generally include filing an answer to the petition for divorce, and the time frame in which they must do it (which is usually 20 days). Within that time period, there may be circumstances in which a court will grant an extension in how much time a spouse has to respond, so the time limit for response is not always set in stone and will depend upon your individual circumstances. As mentioned, there are many circumstances when life gets away from someone or when a person does not want to comply with the divorce proceedings. In those cases, Florida courts have the ability to enter a default divorce judgment. As long as divorce paperwork has been properly served on the other person, an individual may ask the court for a default judgment in their favor.
Basically, this means that the party against whom the judgment is entered has not responded to the divorce documents served to them or has not taken necessary action regarding the pending divorce. In cases where a spouse is unavailable for service, there are other methods of giving your spouse notice of your petition to divorce that will allow a Florida court to consider your request for a default judgment. A default judgment often results in division of assets in a way more beneficial to the person requesting the judgment than the one against whom the judgment is entered. Many things are determined when a divorce is finalized, and a default judgment can have an impact not only on property and assets, but also on financial obligations such as alimony as well as on issues like child custody.
The Final Word?
In a perfect world, the justice system works fairly for everyone. However, even with the many safeguards in place, it is still possible for a person to face the consequences of a default judgment through no action or omission on their part. There are situations where spouses do not properly serve divorce papers or knowingly falsify information. There are also cases where an individual had hoped to salvage his or her relationship by not responding to the divorce papers and this action in turn has led to a default judgment. Whatever the reason for a default judgment in a Florida divorce proceeding, individual spouses often have a chance to request a default judgment be set aside or to appeal a divorce decision.
If your spouse has already made a motion for a default judgment because you have not responded within the specified time period and were not granted an extension in which to file your response but the default judgment has not yet been entered by the judge, you will need to file a Motion to Set Aside Default or Default Judgment. Usually, a hearing will be scheduled and you will likely need to appear in court to present your argument and demonstrate to the court the reason or reasons for your failure to respond. Demonstrating this will usually require you to prove three things:
- Your failure to provide the required response was due to circumstances beyond your control (there are many subjective and objective circumstances that could potentially fulfill this requirement);
- You have a meritorious defense to the judgment that may change the final outcome (meaning that you can provide evidence that could help demonstrate to the court why a different judgment in the divorce is more appropriate); and
- You acted quickly upon learning about the default judgment.
It is helpful to navigate this process with the assistance of an experienced Florida divorce attorney that can try to focus the arguments you wish to present in a way that meets the criteria above. If your motion is denied or if you are still unsatisfied with the final judgment, you may have the option to appeal the decision.
Appeals must be made promptly as there are legal time limits for filing them. An experienced Florida divorce attorney can help you understand more about the appeals process and how to navigate it. However, the appeals process can extend the divorce proceedings for a longer period of time and will cost both parties additional money to pursue. It is always in your best interest to contact a lawyer as soon as the need arises for one to ensure that you do not end up spending a great deal more in the long run. You should not view the appeals process as a method for effectively litigating your divorce, or any other legal matter, as it generally requires proof of mistake in the original proceedings in order to impact the original ruling.
When Do You Need Legal Assistance?
As noted, securing legal assistance is a crucial first step in ensuring that your rights are protected throughout any legal process. If you are considering divorce and want more information about the process or how it may affect you, scheduling a consultation with an experienced Florida divorce attorney can be a lot more informative than researching the Florida divorce process online. An attorney is able to take your personal circumstances into consideration when providing information and advice much more so than a generalized article might be able to do. If you are facing divorce, it is crucial that you work with an attorney to help ensure the best outcome. Attorneys that focus their practice on divorce are aware of the many nuances of Florida divorce law as well as new developments that could impact your case, and are able to use that information to provide you with individualized legal assistance at all stages of the divorce process. If you are considering divorce or have already become engaged in the divorce process, contact Scott J. Stadler to schedule a consultation where you can find out more information about the various aspects of the Florida divorce process as well as how those things might affect you and your family.