Court Discusses Default Judgment in an Uncontested New York Divorce Case

Many divorces are contentious and require protracted litigation to resolve issues such as property division and alimony. In some instances, though, a couple’s decision to part ways is amicable, and they are able to end their marriage expeditiously via an uncontested divorce. While there are benefits to obtaining an uncontested divorce, it is critical for people seeking to dissolve their marriages in such a manner to understand the implications of their decision. For example, as explained in a recent New York ruling, a party that asks the court to vacate an order issued in an uncontested divorce likely faces an uphill battle. If you are thinking about a divorce, it is in your best interest to consult with a trusted New York divorce and family law attorney to discuss your options.

The History of the Case

It is reported that the husband and the wife married in 2000. The wife commenced a divorce action in 2017, and the parties subsequently negotiated the distribution of their property and entered into a separation agreement. The agreement provided, among other things, that the wife’s pension and the husband’s retirement account were the separate property of each party. The matter then proceeded as an uncontested divorce, and the court entered a judgment of divorce upon the husband’s default.

Allegedly, the court incorporated but did not merge, the separation agreement into the judgment of divorce. The husband then moved to vacate the judgment and the portions of the separation agreement dealing with the pension and retirement accounts. The court denied his motion, and he appealed.

Grounds for Vacating a Default Judgment of Divorce

On appeal, the husband argued that the portions of the separation agreement that addressed the pension and retirement accounts were manifestly unfair or were the product of fraud or overreaching. The court rejected this argument, noting that where a separation agreement is merely incorporated but not merged into a divorce judgment, vacating the judgment would not impact the enforcement of the agreement, as it would survive as a separate enforceable contract.

As such, in order to convince the court to set aside the separation agreement, the defendant was required to assert a counterclaim or affirmative defense or commence a plenary motion, which he did not do, as the relief he sought could not be obtained via a motion. Further, the appellate court declined to adopt the defendant’s reasoning that the trial court erred in denying his motion to the extent it sought to vacate the divorce judgment. Specifically, the court noted that he failed to demonstrate a meritorious defense and a reasonable excuse for his default, as required to vacate a default judgment. Thus, the appellate court affirmed the trial court ruling.

Speak to a Seasoned New York Family Law Attorney

While, in some instances, it is appropriate for a couple that wants to end their marriage to pursue an uncontested divorce, it is important that they understand how their decision will impact their rights going forward. If you wish to legally dissolve your marriage, it is in your best interest to speak to an attorney as soon as possible. Ksenia Rudyuk is an experienced New York family law attorney who is proficient at helping people navigate the legal and emotional complexities of divorce, and if you hire her, she will work tirelessly to help you seek your desired outcome. You can reach Ms. Rudyuk through the form online or at 212-706-2001 to set up a conference.

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