What Is A Default Judgment?

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In a divorce, family law or child custody matter, a default judgment can be an option for some parties to pursue. In other cases, a default judgment might have been entered upon them in their case. They might ask if there is anything they can do about it.

A default judgment can take place where one party has been served the pleadings (or motion) in the case and the time-deadlines for filing a responsive pleading have passed. The responsive pleading can vary based on the type of case. But it is typically referred to as an “answer.”

When the deadlines for an answer have passed, the party who initiated the case often has an option to file a motion for default. The exact procedure can vary based on the jurisdiction. But, generally, the motion for default is set for hearing. If the other party does not show up to court, the court can then enter a default judgment.

Many are not sure what they get by taking a default judgment. A default judgment generally means that the party who initiated the case gets the relief they requested.

This means that if a party filed for a divorce, they would get the divorce. As to the other issues in the case, whether that be custody, support, property and debt division and attorney’s fees, it would also mean that they would ordinarily get the relief they requested. A judge theoretically could say “no” to some of the relief requested if it was legally inappropriate for example. But to the extent it is, in a default judgment, a party ordinarily gets all or most of what they requested in their pleadings.

For any party who has been served papers or been notified of a court date, it is vital that they take quick action. This usually entails hiring a lawyer and ensuring that the appropriate responsive pleadings are filed in time. It also means ensuring that they are in court on the date their case is set.

A party might be able to file a motion to set aside a default judgment later for good cause. The exact procedure and timing can vary by the jurisdiction. If a party knows that a default judgment has been entered against them, it is vital they act quickly to ensure that any motion to set aside is filed within the deadlines. Otherwise, they are likely bound by the terms of the default judgment. As to child custody, courts generally disfavor default judgments and will set aside default judgments routinely if within time and for good cause.

The term “default” is often confusing to a lot of parties when thinking about divorce or family law matters. To give a sport analogy, think of what happens when a sports team fails to show up, forfeits the game and, in essence, loses. A default judgment, and a forfeit, is a fairly accurate comparison for those who have a hard time understanding the concept of a default judgment.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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