New York Appellate Court Vacates Part of Divorce Judgment, Finding Issues of Property Distribution Remained in Dispute

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In a New York divorce matter, a court cannot grant a final divorce until the parties have resolved a wide range of issues, including an equitable distribution of marital property. If the parties can agree on a resolution, they may ask the court to approve their agreement as the final judgment of divorce. If they cannot agree on one or more issues, however, the court must decide for them. The husband in a divorce case in Erie County sought to vacate the judgment of divorce, claiming that it did not represent his agreement on property division and therefore left certain issues unresolved. The New York Appellate Division, Fourth Department ruled in his favor earlier this year in Marshall v. Marshall, finding that he had a valid challenge to part of the divorce judgment. It vacated that part of the judgment and remanded the case to the trial court to resolve those issues.

During the divorce proceeding, according to the appellate court’s order, the wife/plaintiff’s attorney recited an oral stipulation of settlement into the record in court, stating that the parties were waiting on a proposal from a third party regarding valuation of their retirement accounts. The husband/defendant stated in court that he agreed with the oral stipulation, except for three unresolved issues relating to offsets in the valuation of the marital residence, payments on a home equity loan, and the allocation of the pension and retirement accounts. Resolving these issues depended on the valuation of the retirement accounts.

The parties agreed that they would amend their stipulation if they resolved the remaining issues, or return to court if they could not. They signed a written agreement adopting the oral stipulation. The husband then withdrew his appearance and allowed the wife to proceed by default. The parties’ attorneys reportedly received the report containing the proposal for the retirement accounts in January 2011. The husband stated that he “adamantly disagreed” with the proposal. The court, however, entered a final judgment of divorce that June.

The husband moved to vacate the judgment of divorce. He argued that his objections to the retirement account proposal were not considered because he had been unable to contact his counsel after first stating his objections. He further claimed that multiple issues were left unresolved in the judgment. The trial court denied his motion and granted the wife’s cross-motion to direct the husband to make certain transfers of title specified in the judgment of divorce.

Since the trial court entered the judgment of divorce by default, the appellate court found that court rules required the husband to establish “excusable default” into order to obtain relief from the judgment. Citing its own precedent case, Bird v. Bird, the court found that the husband had “demonstrated both a reasonable excuse for the default and a meritorious defense.” The husband had taken reasonable steps to express his disagreement with part of the proposed resolution of the divorce, but this information did not reach the court before the final judgment. This entitled the husband to vacate that part of the judgment.

For the past 30 years, family law attorney Ingrid Gherman has represented clients in the greater New York City area in divorces and related matters, helping people deal with complex and difficult issues involving valuation and equitable distribution of marital property. Contact us online or at (212) 941-0767 today to schedule a confidential consultation to see how we can assist you.

More Blog Posts:

New York Appellate Court Considers Whether a Marital Residence, Purchased Before the Marriage, Can Become Marital Property, New York Divorce Attorney Blog, August 5, 2015

VA Benefits and Divorce in New York: What You Should Know, New York Divorce Attorney Blog, July 1, 2015

New York City Feels Impact of Certain Multi-Billion-Dollar Divorce Cases Across International Borders, New York Divorce Attorney Blog, June 22, 2015


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