Divorce is not a difficult process in most cases. But it is still a legal process. This means that certain formalities must be followed. For example, when one spouse files for a divorce (or an annulment), they need to take certain steps to serve their complaint on the other spouse.
Appeals Court Reverses Default Annulment Because Wife Never Served Papers
If the other spouse fails to respond to a divorce petition, the court can grant a default judgment. But this is not a step to be taken lightly. Courts must make every effort to ensure both spouses have an adequate opportunity to be heard.
A recent unpublished decision from the California Fourth District Court of Appeal, In re Marriage of C.J. and T.R., provides a case in point. This case involves two people–identified in public records only as C.J. and T.R., respectively–who apparently separated just two days after their marriage.
About a year following the separation, C.J. filed a petition in California family court seeking either an annulment or dissolution of the marriage. C.J. claimed he could not locate T.R. The court therefore allowed T.R. to complete service by publishing notice of his lawsuit in the newspaper, which is done when a defendant cannot be located.
When T.R. failed to appear at a subsequent court hearing, the family court judge granted C.J. a default judgment of annulment. Sometime later, T.R. became aware of the judgment. She asked the family court to set aside the default judgment on the grounds she never had “actual notice” of C.J.’s original petition.
The family court stood by the default judgment. On appeal, however, the Fourth District reversed. It held that the evidence showed that T.R. did not have actual notice of the proceedings before the default judgment was entered. This was not a case, the Court said, where the defendant deliberately acted to avoid service of a divorce petition.
The Fourth District noted that C.J. did ask for T.R.’s address before filing his petition. She refused. But the Court pointed out that C.J. never told T.R. why he needed her address–i.e., to serve divorce papers on her. The Court said the mere fact that T.R. refused to disclose her address to her estranged spouse and did not prove that she was trying to avoid service. More to the point, once she became aware of the default judgment, she took appropriate action to assert her rights. As such, she was entitled a chance to defend herself against the original petition.
Call a Campbell, California, Divorce Attorney Today
If you are involved in a divorce–or even suspect your spouse is about to initiate such proceedings–it is crucial that you seek out timely legal advice. A knowledgeable lawyer for marriage separation can help walk you through the process and explain your rights. Contact Hepner & Pagan, LLP, today to schedule a consultation with a member of our family law team.