Plaintiff personally served divorce papers on Defendant on February 24, 2016. Defendant did not respond, allegedly because he believed he and Plaintiff would resolve matters amicably. Defendant was wrong. Plaintiff secured a default against him on March 28. Plaintiff waited until April 22 to attempt to serve Defendant by mail with the default, a motion for the entry of a default judgment of divorce, and a proposed judgment. Plaintiff sent the documents to an address that Defendant had vacated 14 months earlier and the package was returned as undeliverable. Finally, on April 27, Plaintiff’s attorney emailed the documents to Defendant. Only then did Defendant realize the divorce would not be as easy as he anticipated. He retained counsel.
The circuit court entered a default judgment of divorce ordering Defendant to pay Plaintiff $2,000 in spousal support each month, granting Plaintiff half of Defendant’s retirement accounts, and awarding her certain personal property valued at nearly $40,000. The default entered despite that Defendant had inadequate or untimely notice of critical orders entered in the proceedings. Moreover, the court denied Defendant’s right to counsel at the hearing at which spousal support was calculated and property divided.
The circuit court could not determine whether the spousal award was equitable, just and reasonable, and necessary to balance the parties’ incomes where one party was artificially precluded from presenting his case. Therefore, the appeals court must vacate the spousal support and property division provisions of the default judgment of divorce. On remand, the court must allow Defendant an opportunity to meet the conditions set forth in the order. If Defendant does not, the circuit court may reinstate the default against him. However, the court may not deprive Defendant of the right to counsel. If Defendant fulfills his obligations, the court should proceed to a hearing to consider the financial provisions of the divorce judgment.
The deprivation of Defendant’s rights to due process and counsel compelled the appeals courts to vacate the spousal support and property division provisions of the default judgment of divorce and remand for further proceedings.
Were you just served with divorce papers? Don’t ignore them, you need to respond. In order to protect your parental and financial rights, it is important to have an understanding of the divorce process.
At the Plymouth and Ann Arbor law firm of Aldrich Legal Services, our attorneys have the skill and experience you need to address all family law issues that may arise during your divorce.