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The Danger of Ignoring Divorce Papers


Divorce is a difficult subject, and hard to accept for many spouses. While most couples have some understanding that the end is nearing, others see one spouse blindsided when divorce papers appear. In addition, spouses who are adamantly against divorce may think that ignoring the entire process will stop the dissolution from happening. This thought, while understandable, is not the reality. Courts want both parties involved, as this scenario produces results that better encapsulate which each party needs and wants, and tends to reduce the likelihood of future litigation over unresolved issues or unsatisfactory outcomes. However, this does not mean courts will not proceed without the participation of both parties. Florida, like most States, has no-fault divorce, so the wishes of spouse to remain married cannot stop this process. One thing that can directly impact the structure of the divorce is the level of participation by each party, and when one chooses not to respond, a default judgment may be entered. Courts do not favor this approach, and an example of this reluctance is seen in a recent Indiana child custody case, involving a Florida mother, in which the appeals court overturned a default judgment because the missed hearing was due to medical issues. While this mother will receive another chance to present her side of the case, it does serve to illustrate the serious consequences of ignoring notices and missing scheduled hearings. A discussion of what a default judgment means, and the grounds to overturn this order, will follow below.

What Is a Default Judgment?

A central component of the judicial system is the participation of all parties in a case, which allows each to present his/her demands and respond to the claims of the other side. This dynamic permits the court to get a better sense of the appropriate outcome, and gives each party a chance to influence the final decision. In order for this system to function in an efficient fashion, though, time limits are set for how long a person can respond to a petition (20 days is standard). Consequently, if a party in a legal case refuses to appear, does not respond to documents, or otherwise misses required deadlines, the other side can move for default, and the court can issue a default judgment, which gives the other side everything demanded. The case is treated as if the non-responding party conceded everything and accepted the position of the other party. In practical terms, this means the petitioning spouse will receive the requested divorce and child custody arrangement without input from the other spouse. Property division, though, cannot be settled until both parties respond, so for cases with marital property to divide, a big component of the resolution will remain open. Further, while child support may be ordered, the amount will likely be based upon unconfirmed income, and could prove hard to collect if the other spouse changes jobs or moves.

Grounds to Rescind

As mentioned, courts do not prefer to issue default judgments, and will rescind them under certain circumstances. The most common reasons people argue to overcome a default judgment are: mistake or excusable neglect, newly discovered evidence, or fraud by a party. In essence, these grounds indicate the failure to reply was not intentional or that a default judgment would be against the weight of justice. Overturning a judgment is complicated, and avoiding this outcome should be a priority. Working with an experienced divorce attorney to present a case, and receive a fair and balanced result, is the best way to handle these challenging circumstances.

Contact an Orlando Divorce Lawyer

Divorce can be hard to accept, and the inclination to ignore this reality can be great. Unfortunately, the legal process will move with or without you, so securing a divorce attorney to represent your interests is the most effective way to have your voice heard. The Orlando attorneys at the Donna Hung Law Group understand the stresses of divorce, and will provide the legal support you need to navigate this complex process. Contact us at (407) 999-0099 for a consultation.