What Happens if a Judge Makes a Mistake in My Divorce Case?

By August 13, 2018Divorce

Nobody is perfect. This applies to judges as much as anyone else. Sometimes judges issue a factually incorrect judgment. For example, say you and your spouse are getting a divorce. You manage to reach a settlement regarding the division of your property and present it to a judge for approval. The judge then approves the divorce, but the terms contained in the final decree do not match the terms of your settlement. Can you ask the judge–or even an appeals court–to correct that mistake?

Wife Waited Too Long to Assert Her Rights Under Settlement

The short answer to this question is “yes,” but you need to act quickly. Under Texas court rules, a trial court has the power to “modify, correct, or reform” its own judgment within 30 days after signing said judgment. Once this 30-day period expires, however, the court loses jurisdiction over the divorce–and it cannot be restored, even if both parties agree there was a problem. Furthermore, the 30-day rule applies even in cases where it was clearly the judge, not the parties themselves, that made the original mistake.

A recent Galveston divorce case illustrates how this rule works in practice. In this case, a wife sued a husband for divorce. They reached a mediated settlement agreement (MSA) regarding the division of their property. Among other terms, the MSA said the husband would pay the wife $750 per month for 12 months, as well as give her $201,000 from his 401(k) retirement account.

A few weeks later, the wife presented the MSA to the divorce court for approval. The husband chose not to participate in the hearing. The judge ultimately granted the divorce–but in the final decree, she did not include the 401(k) distribution to the wife, and she only required the husband to make a single $750 payment to the wife. Furthermore, the decree clearly stated that it overruled the MSA in the event of a conflict.

The court entered the decree on November 23, 2015. The following April, the wife sought to modify the judgment to correctly reflect the terms of the MSA. The judge granted this motion and modified the judgment with respect to the cash payments and the 401(k). The husband objected to this, noting that the court “lost jurisdiction” once 30 days elapsed following the entry of the final decree.

The Texas 14th District Court of Appeals agreed with the husband. It held the trial court’s modified order was void as a matter of law. While trial courts have the authority to “correct a clerical error in the record of a judgment” at any time, that does not apply to situations, like this one, where the judge “renders judgment incorrectly” and the final order “precisely reflects the incorrect rendition.” In other words, once the judge signed a decree that she incorrectly believe reflected the MSA, it was up to the wife to challenge that mistake within 30 days. Since she waited past that point, she was now out of luck.

Let a Galveston Divorce Attorney Help You

The potential for critical legal mistakes like the one in the case above emphasizes the importance of working with an experienced Galveston divorce lawyer. Contact the Law Offices of Tad Nelson & Associates today if you live in the Galveston area and need legal assistance with any divorce-related matter or call (281) 843-9776.