Divorce by Default; Now What?

This case happened in my home state of Alabama, but it could happen anywhere. The wife sued for divorce and had the husband served. Then the wife and the husband seemed to be reconciling, so the husband made no effort to appear in court for the scheduled hearing. The wife and her attorney showed up, however, and the judge granted the divorce. Now the husband is asking what he can do.

The answer depends on how much time has elapsed from the divorce decree. Most judges dislike making massive changes in people’s lives without hearing their side of the story, so if a spouse comes to court within a few days after a ruling by default, it’s often possible to get the judge to set it aside and hear testimony. On the other hand, if months have gone by before the spouse comes to court, the divorce decree is final, and there’s little the judge can do, even if he or she feels that an injustice has occurred.

The moral of this story is clear, isn’t it? Don’t ignore that summons. If you’ve been served with a complaint for divorce and you and your spouse are reconciled, that’s great. Congratulations. Now make sure the case gets dismissed. If you’re not sure, file an answer to your spouse’s complaint. If there’s a hearing scheduled, go to court at the date and time of the scheduled hearing and make sure you understand what the judge does with your case.

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