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10
May

Default Judgments – What You Face If You Ignore a Divorce Petition

By Iafrate & Salassa

divorce petition being filled out by a Clinton Township divorce lawyer for his client

Going through a divorce is not a process most people approach with any sort of positive emotion and many just count the days until the whole thing is over. These kinds of attitudes certainly make sense when one considers that very few people enter into marriage with divorce as an event on the horizon. Divorces can be expensive, are emotionally messy, and leave psychological scars on the children, so it is no wonder it is typically chosen as last resort. Divorce can be especially difficult if only one spouse wants to end the marriage, but given that Michigan, like the majority of other states, allows for no-fault divorce, the consent of both spouses is not necessary to dissolve the marriage. It could almost be tempting to ignore the divorce petition hoping that the other spouse gives up, but that can very easily turn into a costly mistake. If a person is served with legal papers requiring a written response that must be filed with a court and those papers are ignored, the other side has the option to file for default judgment. What exactly a default judgment is and how it can affect your rights in a case will be explored below.

What Is a Default Judgment?

When someone files a petition or lawsuit, they are required to serve the other party with a copy of the papers filed with the court. Once the other party receives this notice of the legal action, the law sets the time period within which he/she must respond or appear in court. If a party fails to respond or appear, the other side can request the court enter a default against him/her. Once a default is entered on the record, the party who filed the petition can ask for a default judgment. A default judgment essentially gives the requesting party everything they asked for in the petition and cuts off the ability of the responding party to challenge the legitimacy of the facts and claims listed. While Michigan courts will not enter a default judgment for divorce, annulment, or support without a hearing in open court and supporting affidavits, once a default judgment is entered, the ability to challenge the judge’s order is extremely limited.

What Are Your Options if One Is Entered against You?

First, it is important to know that once a default judgment is issued the defaulting party cannot participate in the case until the default is lifted. So, if you do find yourself with a default judgment entered against you, you must act quickly to prevent the order from becoming final. The party who requested and received the default judgment has seven days to serve a copy of the judgment on the other party, and the party who defaulted has 21 days to ask the court to nullify the judgment, unless he/she can prove that notice of the default and/or default judgment was not provided. Assuming notice was given, the court will only undo a default judgment if the party can provide a valid reason for his/her failure to respond. In addition, it is standard for a court to award the party who requested the default judgment court costs from the defaulting party to compensate for any reliance placed on the default.

Ask for Help

Once you are served with divorce papers, the clock starts ticking on the deadline to respond, so it is important to take immediate action to ensure you retain all your rights to participate in the case. Working with a divorce attorney can make the process of responding to the initial papers and any additional steps in the process much easier to navigate. The law firm of Iafrate & Salassa, P.C., located in Clinton Township, is family law focused and can assist you with all legal matters related to divorce, child custody, support, and the like. Contact us to schedule your free initial consultation.

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