Divorce by its very nature positions spouses against each other. No matter how long or short the marriage was, as soon as the couple decides to separate, they become adversaries. That is, they are necessarily pursuing separate and individual interests, with the likely exception of the best interests of their children. Because of these unfortunate but real dynamics, parties are typically encouraged to hire their own family law attorneys to represent their separate legal and financial interests. Throughout a divorce proceeding, a couple may dispute any number of issues, including any entitlement to spousal support, the division of property, and even a court’s personal or subject matter jurisdiction over a party or the matter in general. To ensure that your rights are preserved and legally protected, you may wish to contact an experienced San Diego family lawyer as early as possible in the proceedings.
In a recent California divorce case, the husband appealed from a default judgment that required him to pay attorney fees and spousal support to his former wife. A default judgment occurs when the “responding” party fails to answer or “appear” in the case at a date specified in the pleadings. Here, the parties were married in 1978 and have two adult children. In 1993, the family moved to Chile, where the wife was born. The couple separated in 1995, and the wife filed a dissolution petition in 1996 in a California court. Although the court granted the divorce, the wife successfully moved to vacate the judgment.
Later in 2012, the wife filed a second petition in California for dissolution of marriage. She mailed pleadings and other papers to her husband, who was living in New York at the time. He failed to appear at both the first hearing and then the continued hearing. The court issued an order, requiring the husband to pay spousal support and attorney fees. Another hearing was set for April 29, 2013 to determine the husband’s arrearages. He personally appeared at that hearing, and the court advised the husband that he must file a response if he hoped to contest the matter.
Three months later, the husband moved to quash service of process for lack of personal and subject matter jurisdiction and to set aside the earlier orders. He argued that the wife had not lived in California for the six months prior to filing the petition and that she lived in Chile. He further pointed out that jurisdiction over him would be proper in New York. The wife introduced evidence of her presence in California during the six months prior to filing the petition (a statutory requirement). The court denied the husband’s motion to quash and directed him to file a response or face a default judgment. Instead, the husband’s attorney wrote to the court, detailing his right to have extensive time to file a pleading. Despite this effort, the court granted the wife’s request for a default judgment.
While the husband raised four issues on appeal, the primary question focused on whether the husband’s appearance at a hearing on a motion to enforce earlier court orders constituted a “general appearance.” If his prior appearance amounted to a general appearance (rather than a special appearance), the court’s decision to deny his motion to quash service for lack of jurisdiction would be upheld.
The court reviewed the differences between making a general appearance versus a special appearance and concluded that the husband submitted to the court’s jurisdiction by objecting to issues raised at the April 29th hearing. Although there was no record of what occurred at that hearing, the court was required to assume that he did not appear at the hearing only to object to matters of jurisdiction.
Clearly, it is extremely important to understand the ramifications of participating in a divorce proceeding at any stage. It is helpful to consult with a family law attorney in order to understand and protect your rights. Roy M. Doppelt has been representing parties in divorce matters for more than 20 years. His office serves clients throughout Southern California, including in San Diego, Encinitas, La Jolla, and Chula Vista. For a free consultation, contact Doppelt & Forney through our website, or give us a call toll-free at (800) ROY IS IT (769-4748).
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