Wednesday, May 6, 2015
Default Divorce Reversed Due To Non-Compliance With Court Order
In Eichenbaum v. Eichenbaum, a case out of Morris County, the Defendant appealed a final judgment of divorce after a Family Court judge struck down his defenses and ordered a default against him. Following three (3) days of trial, the Family Court judge adjourned the case because the Defendant attempted to introduce a great deal of documentation into evidence that was not provided to the Plaintiff during the discovery period. Further, the judge ordered that the Defendant pay $50,000 in attorney's fees to the Plaintiff's attorneys to allow them to review the new information. When the trial resumed forty-five (45) days later the judge entered a default judgment against the Defendant for failing to pay the Plaintiff's attorney's fees. The Appellate Court reversed the final divorce judgment with regard to all issues except for the declaration of divorce, which was affirmed, because it was uncontested. According to the Appellate Court, the entry of default by the Family Court was not due to the Defendant's failure to provide discovery, as the court had already dealt with that issue when it adjourned the trial in order to allow the Plaintiff and her attorney to review the documents. The default was entered because the Defendant did not pay the $50,000 to the Plaintiff's attorney for preparing for the adjourned trial. The court held that, the core principle fundamental to our justice system is that every reasonable indulgence should be employed to avoid the onerous sanction of a default and to achieve "just and expeditious determinations between the parties on the ultimate merits." Ragusa v. Lau, 119 N.J. 276, 284 (1990); Tumarkin v. Friedman, 17 N.J. Super. 20, 27 (App. Div. 1951). This policy requires a narrow application of N.J. Court Rule 4:43-1, which allows a Plaintiff to request entry of default against a Defendant who has "failed to plead or otherwise defend as provided by these rules or court order . . ." Failure to comply with any court order will not be sufficient for entry of default, the court order must be rooted in a failure to defend. DYFS v. M.G, 427 N.J. Super. 154, 168-69 (App. Div. 2010). In this case, the Appellate Court did not find that entering default for failing to pay attorneys for work presumably already undertaken was an appropriate sanction. The judge should have imposed other sanctions to offset the Defendant's debt. Therefore the Court reversed the decision. Choosing to seek a divorce from a spouse can be one of the most emotional and difficult decisions that a person can make in their lifetime. If you feel that it may be beneficial to you to petition the court for a divorce from your spouse or if you simply would like to obtain additional information about the divorce process or its legal consequences it is critical that you seek out the advice of an experienced attorney before moving forward. For more information about divorce, uncontested divorce, equitable distribution, child custody, non dissolution cases, 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.