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DIVORCE 53: Although the court affirmed the trial court’s decisions to deny defendant’s motions to set aside the default and the default JOD, it vacated the portions of the default JOD as to the distribution of marital property, custody, parenting t

Plaintiff filed for divorce. Defendant filed an answer and a counterclaim for divorce.  Plaintiff and defendant were both ordered to appear at the settlement conference. After defendant failed to appear, the trial court entered a default. Soon after the default was entered, defendant moved to set the default aside.  The court concluded that sufficient information had been presented to warrant granting defendant’s motion to set aside the default. The trial court scheduled a second settlement conference.  After defendant failed to appear in a timely manner, the trial court entered another default. Defendant moved to set aside the default. The trial court denied defendant’s motion to set aside the default. The trial court granted plaintiff’s motion to enter a default judgment of divorce, uniform child support order, and the uniform spousal support order. The trial court recognized that the parties disputed custody, property division, and spousal support, so it stated that it would schedule an evidentiary hearing and a Friend of the Court assessment. The trial court then took testimony from plaintiff. Defendant later moved to set aside the default judgment of divorce. He reiterated the reasons that he had missed both settlement conferences and argued that the trial court had failed to make the necessary findings of fact before entering the default judgment of divorce. At a hearing on the motion, the trial court explained that it had carefully reviewed every document presented to it and that it had properly entered the default judgment of divorce, uniform child support order, and spousal support order. The court also indicated that it did not need to make explicit findings in the record regarding custody, property division, child support, and spousal support. The trial court then denied defendant’s motion and canceled the assessment and evidentiary hearing.


Defendant argues that the trial court abused its discretion by failing to set aside the default and the default judgment of divorce because good cause existed. We disagree. The ruling on a motion to set aside a default or a default judgment is entrusted to the discretion of the trial court. Although the law favors the determination of claims on the merits, it has also been said that the policy of this state is generally against setting aside defaults and default judgments that have been properly entered. MCR 3.210(B)(3) provides guidance on setting aside a default before entry of default judgment in domestic relations cases, stating that “[a] motion to set aside a default, except when grounded on lack of jurisdiction over the defendant or subject matter, shall be granted only upon verified motion of the defaulted party showing good cause.” Whether there is good cause is based on the totality of the circumstances.  When considering the totality of the circumstances, we conclude that the trial court did not abuse its discretion when it held that the motor vehicle accident was not a reasonable excuse to set aside the October 2019 default. The October 2019 settlement conference was the second settlement conference that defendant had failed to attend in a timely manner. Additionally, we conclude that the trial court did not abuse its discretion by refusing to set aside the default judgment of divorce. Although defendant moved to set aside the default judgment within the requisite 21 days and the judgment results in ongoing liability, we conclude that a totality of circumstances support the trial court’s denial of defendant’s motion.


Defendant next argues that this Court should reverse the trial court’s decision to deny his motion to set aside the default judgment of divorce because the trial court made insufficient factual findings on the issues of the division of marital property, child custody, spousal support, and child support.  Unlike virtually all other civil litigation between competent individuals, a divorce, even when settled, requires a hearing in the circuit court and the taking of proofs before a judgment can be entered. With respect to the division of marital property, this Court held that even when a default judgment is appropriately entered, the trial court must still make an equitable division of the marital estate and make factual findings thereof. We conclude that the trial court was required to make independent findings regarding the property division in conjunction with the entry of the default judgment. Consequently, remand is necessary so that the trial court can either make findings regarding the distribution of marital property as contemplated by the default judgment of divorce or consider redistribution of the property. We further conclude that remand is necessary so that the trial court can make the requisite findings of fact with respect to custody and parenting time of the two minor children. In this case, despite defendant’s default, the trial court was required to set forth its findings of fact and conclusions of law on the best-interest factors and parenting time. Therefore, we remand to the trial court to state its findings and conclusions regarding both custody and parenting time. Defendant next argues that the trial court erred in its spousal support award because it did not make findings of fact on the record. We agree. On remand, the trial court must consider the relevant factors as they pertain to the parties and make specific findings of fact that justify its ultimate award of spousal support. Finally, defendant argues that the trial court erred when calculating child support by not “imputing a higher income to [plaintiff] for child support purposes and in ordering that [defendant] begin paying child support while the parties are still living together.” As already stated, it is proper to remand the matter so that the trial court can make findings of fact concerning the division of property and spousal support. Because the trial court’s findings on remand could alter the appropriate amount of child support, we find that it is proper to also remand the matter for consideration regarding child support.


 In sum, we affirm the trial court’s decisions to deny defendant’s motion to set aside the October 2019 default and the default judgment of divorce. However, we vacate the portions of the default judgment of divorce concerning the distribution of marital property, custody, parenting time, spousal support, and child support and remand the matter so that the trial court can make the required factual findings and conclusions of law regarding these issues.


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