As a divorce attorney, I have been asked on many occasions whether an individual can reopen their New Jersey divorce matter or set aside the judgment because they feel that something was not disclosed to them at the time of their settlement or because they believe the other party lied to them about something. If you feel that this has happened to you, you probably feel like you have been wronged or that justice has not been served. In certain instances you may be able to reopen the matter and correct any unfairness that might have transpired. Let’s explore.
Generally speaking, a party has one year from the entry of a judgment to file a motion for relief from the judgment. On certain occasions, however, the motion just needs to be made within a reasonable time. The meaning of “reasonable time” has been left up to interpretation, based on the particular facts of a case, such as when the basis for such a motion was discovered. Reasons that can provide for sufficient grounds to vacate a judgment and reopen the divorce include mistake, excusable neglect, newly discovered evidence, fraud, misrepresentation, or can even be any other reason justifying relief from the judgment.
As with any case, the court is ultimately looking to achieve equity and justice. Can you show that if the judgment was enforced it would be unjust, oppressive, or inequitable? If so, there may be grounds to reopen the divorce proceeding provided you have filed within the applicable time frame. In the event you are trying to get relief under the catch all ground of “any other reason justifying relief”, not only must you show that it is unjust or oppressive, but that there are exceptional circumstances that reveal redress of the judgment is necessary.
The court is always concerned with whether, in a particular matter, justice dictates that relief needs to be provided under the specific facts of that matter. A court can relieve a party from final judgment whenever it is necessary to prevent an obvious denial of justice. There is of course a strong interest in the conclusiveness of judgments and judicial efficiency that the court will not overlook. A motion to vacate a judgment must be supported by evidence of changed circumstances.
At the end of the day, the court has discretionary power to reopen a judgment in a divorce case. Even in the case where a party defaults (i.e. they do not file an answer or appearance in the matter during the required time frame) and judgment has been entered, if a party can demonstrate good cause, the court can set aside an entry of default or even a judgment in accordance with Court Rule 4:50-1. In the matrimonial context, the court is typically concerned with protecting the interests of the parties. A judgment by default is not favored in divorce suits, as the courts are particularly inclined to step in by opening up a judgment and giving the defendant a day in court so that the merits of his defense may be heard and the matter decided on all of the facts.
Whether a court will reopen a divorce proceeding and allow you to litigate the matter to correct whatever injustice may have occurred, will turn on the particular facts of your case, what alleged ground has occurred and what effect it has had on the overall settlement of your matter, including equitable distribution. As practicing New Jersey divorce attorneys we deal with these types of issues on a reoccurring basis and know how to handle these matters and get you the relief that you deserve. If you believe something has happened in your matter after you have settled your case and judgment has already been entered, but you feel that you have been wronged, do not hesitate to contact our firm to further discuss your rights and how you may be able to move forward with obtaining relief from that judgment.
If you would like to discuss this situation with my New Jersey divorce law firm, please do not hesitate to give us a call.
This blog was written by Edward A. Wojciechoski, Esq., another rising star at the Law Offices of Edward R. Weinstein.