Default Divorce Vacated On Appeal
- March 2, 2015
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In Block v. Block, a NJ Appellate Division case, the Defendant argued that the Family Court judge who adjudicated his divorce wrongly entered a judgment of divorce by default against him and erred in refusing to vacate the judgment. The Appellate Division agreed and reversed the decision of the Family Court. The Plaintiff filed a Complaint for Divorce in 2013 and according to the Defendant he and his wife engaged in negotiations to resolve the matter without the assistance of counsel as a means to save money. In April of that year, the Defendant suffered a heart attack and subsequently in May of 2013 requested that the Plaintiff provide consent to extend his time to file an Answer to her divorce Complaint, and although the Plaintiff stated that she would provide the information to her attorneys at the time (again as a means to save money), it stands to reason that she did not. The Defendant prepared and e-mailed a stipulation to the Plaintiff extending the time to file a responsive pleading which was provided to the Family Court in this case. The Defendant also provided the court with information that showed that he and the Plaintiff took additional steps to negotiate a settlement. Next, the Defendant claimed that even though he and the Plaintiff agreed to negotiate rather than proceed through attorneys, the Plaintiff’s attorney applied for a default judgment against him without advance warning. On the hearing date scheduled for the default, the Defendant appeared pro se and argued his case to obtain the opportunity to file an Answer rather than suffer a default judgment. The judge found that the Defendant did not comply with the Court Rules and entered the default judgment. The Defendant then moved for relief pursuant to Rule 4:50 to vacate the default judgment that was issued against him, and in his Motion papers he outlined his sudden illness, the agreement between he and the Plaintiff to circumvent litigation through negotiation, his transmittal of a stipulation to extend his time to file an Answer, and his attempts to file an Answer once learning that the Plaintiff’s attorney filed for default without warning him. The judge denied his Motion to vacate the default judgment for the same reasons she entered the default against him. The Defendant appealed from this decision arguing that the judge did not view his Motion to vacate with the liberality that is required by Rule 4:50 and Marder v. Realty Constr. Co., 84 N.J. Super. 313, 319 (App. Div. 1964). The Appellate Division agreed with the Defendant and reversed the decision of the Family Court holding that the Court Rules were designed to promote the efficient administration of justice and disposition of cases on their merits and not on procedural niceties. Rule 1:1-2. As the New Jersey Supreme Court has noted the Court Rules “should not in themselves be the source of any extensive litigation; they should be subordinated to their true role, i.e., simply a means to the end of obtaining just and expeditious determinations between the parties on the ultimate merits.” Handelman v. Handelman, 17 N.J. 1, 10 (1954); Ragusa v. Lau, 119 N.J. 276, 283-84 (1990); Stone v. Old Bridge Twp., 111 N.J. 110, 125 (1988). According to the Appellate Division, the Family Court judge’s decision did not reveal any of the liberality required by the Court Rules. If you anticipate that you are to be engaged in a contested or uncontested divorce it is imperative that you seek out the advice of an experienced attorney before moving forward. For more information about divorce, uncontested divorce, post-judgment modification, alimony, or other family law matters in New Jersey visit HeatherDarlingLawyer.com. This blog is for informational purposes and in no way is intended to replace the advice of an attorney.