First off, a default divorce occurs where one spouse seeks a divorce and the other spouse cannot be found, or refuses to appear in court. If one party does not show up, the trial for divorce is understandably one-sided, and since there is nobody to contest the divorce, it is usually granted as a matter of course.
This may seem unfair to a spouse who, for one reason or another, was unable to appear at the divorce trial, who now wants to contest it. Because of this, most states have a procedure through which a spouse who has been divorced by default can contest the divorce, in certain limited cases.
How Does a Spouse Re-Open a Default Divorce?
Generally, the spouse who wants to contest the default divorce has a certain amount of time to do so. In most states, they will have around one year. The spouse must show good cause for not appearing at trial. States vary as to what constitutes “good cause,” but generally, being physically unable to appear - for medical or other reasons - would suffice.
In some states, fleeing a marriage to escape domestic abuse constitutes good cause to re-open a default divorce, as well. Other good cause considerations may include serving in the military or engaging in extended training overseas.
Do I Need a Lawyer?
If you have been divorced with an opportunity to contest it or present your side of the story, you should seek the advice of a family law lawyer immediately. A local attorney will be able to help you navigate the complicated process behind vacating a default divorce and proceeding from there.