Court Examines Judgment Following the Death of a Party in California Family Law Cases

Divorce actions often involve a juxtaposition of emotions and legal and factual disputes that can be challenging to navigate. In San Diego Family Law Court., dissolution cases can become all the more complex if one of the parties dies before the matter is resolved. In a recent ruling, a California Court examined whether a Court has the authority to enter a judgment of dissolution after the death of one of the parties based on a settlement agreement that had been reached before the death occurred. If you anticipate your marriage ending, it is wise to talk to a San Diego divorce lawyer about your options.

Factual and Procedural History

It is reported that the husband and the wife were married in 2004 and separated more than ten years later. They had two children during their marriage. In August 2021, after a series of contested hearings, both parties and their counsel participated in a settlement conference, resulting in a comprehensive agreement (the Agreement). The Agreement covered various aspects of their separation, including custody, child support, spousal support, property division, and attorney’s fees. The Agreement specified that it would become a court order and could be incorporated into a formal dissolution judgment.

Allegedly, in late 2021after the Agreement was signed, email correspondence between the parties’ attorneys indicated disagreements and delays in finalizing the judgment. Unfortunately, the wife passed away in a car accident in December 2021. In February 2022, the wife’s attorney filed an ex parte request for entry of judgment, which was denied, leading to a subsequent request for order (RFO) and a hearing scheduled for July 14, 2022. The RFO sought to appoint the wife’s son as her successor and to retroactively enter a judgment based on the Agreement. The Trial Court entered judgment nunc pro tunc to August 24, 2021. The husband appealed.

Judgment Entered Following the Death of a Party

The issue on appeal was whether the Trial Court had the authority to enter a judgment of dissolution after the death of the wife based on the Agreement. The Court ultimately found that it did and affirmed the ruling.

In its analysis, the Court focused on a California case that addressed a Court’s authority to enter a judgment nunc pro tunc after the death of a party. The Court also examined the statutory basis for such authority under Section 2346, which allows the court to correct the omission of signing, filing, and entering a judgment due to mistake, negligence, or inadvertence.

Further, the Court noted that California case law dictates that a Court’s authority to backdate a divorce judgment under Section 2346 is not contingent upon the submission of a proposed judgment to the court. Instead, the critical factor is whether all contested issues have been resolved, allowing the Court to grant justice by entering a judgment nunc pro tunc.

Meet with a Capable California Divorce Attorney

Settlement agreements voluntarily entered into by parties in divorce actions may be enforceable, even if they are not submitted to the court. If you have questions about how you can protect your rights in a divorce action, it is in your best interest to meet with an attorney as soon as possible. The capable San Diego divorce attorneys of Doppelt and Forney APLC can examine the facts of your case and apprise you of your options for seeking a just outcome.   You can reach us through our online form or call us at 800-769-4748 to set up a free and confidential meeting up to 30 minutes.

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