I recently read an article on odditycentral.com regarding a scandal. The majority of the story is all too familiar – a wealthy man marries a much younger, very beautiful, woman. This story differs; however, in that this particular wealthy man secretively divorced his wife 20 years ago in an attempt to protect his assets.
“How does this happen?” “Could this happen to me?” a person may wonder. In this particular case, this wealthy man went to the Dominican Republic to file for divorce. Within his Complaint, he alleged, “incompatibility of temperaments” claiming his wife had made his life “unbearable” – just four months into the marriage. He maintained this charade by hiring lawyers to represent both himself and his wife. Eventually, the divorce went through.
Oddly enough, the day after reading this story a client who had hired me to obtain a divorce called stating that, to his surprise, he was already divorced. In my case, the parties had been living apart for nearly a year. We eventually tracked down where the opposing party was living to have her served. Although the party tried to avoid service, we eventually got her served with the Summons (the document needed to start an action for divorce in Minnesota and North Dakota) with the help of a process server. The process server told us the opposing party made an offhanded comment when he handed her the papers regarding “already being divorced.” Because we knew this individual to be on the “shady” side of the ledger, my client went to work looking into whether she had in fact already received a divorce. Upon further inspection, he found out she had obtained a divorce nearly 5 months prior!
Whether it is the wealthy guy from the story on odditycentral.com, or the woman from right here in North Dakota, obtaining a secret divorce typically involves some sort of fraud. The wealthy man went as far as hiring attorneys for both parties, but the truth of the matter is he could have gone about it in a much easier and less expensive way. Basically, without getting into the details, some people, such as the woman from North Dakota, are able to obtain what is called “default judgments” against others by falsifying information and making false representations to a Court.
Unfortunately, people from Minnesota and North Dakota cannot prevent a secret divorce from happening on the front end. The good news is that if a person finds out that their spouse has secretively divorced them, and they are not happy with the contents of the judgment, there are ways to remedy the situation.
In both North Dakota and Minnesota, Rule of Civil Procedure 60 allows a party to be “relieve[d]” from a final judgment of the Court if the judgment was obtained by, among other things, mistake, newly discovered evidence, fraud, or any other reason that justifies relief. Obviously, hiring an attorney for a “pseudo defendant,” like the wealthy man did, would involve fraud. So too would lying to a court about the ability to find a defendant, like a woman from North Dakota did, when in fact she knew where he lived.
Although a person would like to believe that the law would allow for a quick and easy “fix” to these situations, the fact of the matter is there is no such thing as a “slam dunk case.” For instance, the wealthy man may claim the wife had knowledge of the divorce and the matter may come down to the credibility of both parties. And, there are time limitations for certain arguments one can make under Rule 60.
The bottom line here is that if you have legal issues with regard to any matter, whether family law-related or not, you should contact an attorney. The law is complex and it is good to have someone who specializes in a particular area of the law on your side.
I am one of the attorneys at SW&L Attorneys who handle family law cases. If you have a family law issue that you would like to discuss, please do not hesitate to call our Family Law Team at 701-297-2890 or send us an email below.