There are lots of things that can “sneak up” on you, but a judgment of divorce shouldn’t be one of them. If you’ve received notice that your spouse has obtained something called a “default judgment of dissolution of marriage,” chances are high that you didn’t have an attorney. If that happens, you may not know what to do. Let’s start with what you shouldn’t do: don’t panic, don’t despair and definitely don’t give up. Instead, do reach out to an experienced South Florida family law attorney who can help you explore your options for reversing that default judgment and getting an outcome that’s fairer to you.
The law prefers that all cases – especially family law matters – be resolved on their merits, not on procedural bases. This gives your request to overturn a default judgment enhanced odds of success.
For example, consider this South Florida husband’s divorce and default judgment case. His wife filed for divorce. The husband submitted an answer that said he didn’t oppose dissolution, but he did oppose the equitable distribution the wife proposed.
The wife submitted her mandatory financial documentation, and the husband did not. When compelled to do so, the husband submitted paperwork,… 100% in Italian. The wife filed a motion for default judgment. The husband filed more papers composed entirely in Italian. (Can you tell which spouse had a capable Florida attorney and which didn’t?)
Eventually, the wife and her legal team obtained the sought-after default judgment, which included the wife’s preferred equitable distribution of assets and debts. After the entry of that judgment, the husband filed more papers with the trial court, again 100% in Italian.
It was at this point that the husband took the step that saved his case. He retained a Miami-Dade attorney and launched an appeal. The husband’s attorney understood several things that formed the basis of his successful appeal. First, spouses’ financial disclosures in a divorce case are considered part of the pre-trial discovery process, so a spouse’s failure to submit a mandatory financial disclosure is a discovery violation.
Default judgment is proper ‘only in extreme circumstances’
Second, Florida law is very clear that the entry of a default judgment is the most severe of all possible punishments for a discovery violation and should be used only in cases involving the most flagrant of violations. Third, a default judgment based on a discovery violation is reversible if the trial court failed “to make express written findings of fact supporting the conclusion that the failure to obey the court order demonstrated willful or deliberate disregard.”
At no point in any hearing and in no order (including the default judgment) did the trial judge find that the husband’s failure to complete the mandatory disclosures was done with willful or deliberate disregard of the court’s orders. As a result, the default judgment was erroneous, and the husband was entitled to have it thrown out.
There are many things you can do to ensure that the divorce judgment you receive is the fair outcome you deserve. One of the most important things is having a skillful and effective legal advocate on your side. Don’t be caught off guard and “blindsided” by what takes place in your divorce case. Count on the knowledgeable South Florida family law attorneys at Sandy T. Fox, P.A., who have been helping Florida spouses for many years, to be the sort of powerful advocate you need. Contact our attorneys online or by calling (800) 596-0579 to schedule your confidential consultation today.