Ending a marriage is often an acrimonious process. We see many Galveston divorce cases where the spouses choose to fight over every little detail. Such an aggressive approach is often counterproductive, however, and often accomplishes little more than delaying a final resolution of the couple’s outstanding issues.
Despite Wife’s Misconduct, Appeals Court Said Default Judgment to Husband Was Unjustified
If you are in the midst of a divorce and unable to resolve any critical issues with your estranged spouse, keep in mind that once you head into court, you are obligated to follow the judge’s orders and the general rules governing civil trials. This means, for instance, that when you are required to turn over certain information to your spouse (or their attorney), your failure to comply is not simply passive-aggressive behavior–it is a violation of the court’s orders and can get you in serious trouble.
How serious depends on the severity of the contempt. There are cases where judges have been known to impose “death-penalty” sanctions on uncooperative parties in a divorce. Of course, this does not literally mean death, but rather refers to a scenario where a judge awards one spouse relief solely based on the other spouse’s refusal to cooperate.
Judges are not allowed to impose such severe sanctions without good cause, however. Earlier this year, a state appeals court held that a death-penalty sanction was not justified despite evidence of the wife’s refusal to cooperate. In this case, the wife filed for divorce against the husband, who then filed his own countersuit. In his countersuit, the husband accused his wife of fraud and misuse of community property, among other allegations.
As explained by the Court of Appeals in its own opinion, the wife “largely failed to cooperate with oral and written discovery” requests made by the husband over a period of “several months.” The husband asked the judge to compel his wife to answer certain questions or impose sanctions for her refusal to do so.
During a hearing in open court, the judge deferred the question of sanctions but did order the wife to comply with her husband’s discovery requests. The husband was not satisfied with the wife’s subsequent responses and renewed his motion for sanctions. At a second hearing–where the wife did not show up or have an attorney appear on her behalf–the judge decided enough was enough. He imposed death-penalty sanctions in the form of striking the wife’s complaint for divorce, barring her from presenting any defenses to the husband’s allegations, and awarding default judgment to the husband. The judge later issued a final divorce decree addressing child support and the division of property, again without the wife’s participation.
The wife did manage to file an appeal. And the appeals court agreed with her that the trial court abused its discretion. Without commenting on the wife’s misconduct, the higher court said the lower court could only order death-penalty sanctions only after considering “lesser sanctions” and providing a “reasoned explanation concerning the appropriateness of the greater sanction imposed.” The trial judge failed to do so, and as a result its default judgment award and final divorce decree had to be reversed.
Need Help Learning the Do’s and Don’ts of Divorce?
As you can see, even judges have to follow certain rules when handling a contested divorce case. Indeed, following the rules is what keeps the entire divorce process from degenerating into a never-ending series of fights. If you are contemplating divorce it is important to understand the rules upfront. An experienced Galveston divorce lawyer can help. Contact the Law Offices of Tad Nelson & Associates today if you need advice on how to proceed with your own divorce case.