In an ideal world, every case would end with a final judgment and decree of divorce that has every term and provision exactly the way both spouses wanted them. However, that does not happen all the time and sometimes, the judgment needs amended after the fact. This can be necessary for a number of reasons such as:
- The opposing party got a default judgment against you based on mistake, inadvertence, surprise, or excusable neglect;
- newly discovered evidence that, with reasonable diligence, could not have been discovered in time to move for a new trial under Rule 807(b);
- fraud (whether previously called intrinsic or extrinsic), misrepresentation, or misconduct by an opposing party;
- the judgment is void;
- the judgment has been satisfied, released, or discharged; it is based on an earlier judgment that has been reversed or vacated; or applying it prospectively is no longer equitable; or
- any other reason that justifies relief.
When you are thinking about whether you need to modify your final judgment, you need to make a decision fast because there are some deadlines to make ask the court to modify the judgment. After those deadlines have passed, you will not be able modify your judgment unless you can get your ex-spouse to modify those terms, which may not be exactly easy unless it benefits that other spouse in some way.
Specifically, if you are asking the court to change the terms of your decree for the first three reasons above, you have to file a motion to modify the judgment with the court within six months from the date of the entry of the judgment. Now, I will not weigh in on whether I think those deadlines are right or wrong or serve the interests of justice, but those are the rules and the lawyers and general public must follow them unless and until the rules are changed.
If you are asking the court to modify for the last three of the reasons above, the motion must be filed within a “reasonable time.” There is not a lot of guidance as far as what is reasonable and will more than likely have to be analyzed and argued on an individual case-by-case basis. That being said, it should be more than six months, otherwise the rule would specify a different period.
It is always easier to get it right the first time, but sometimes it is necessary to open pandora’s box to get what you are entitled to. Typically this happens when the 1) original judgment was drafted in a way that is so vague it is impossible to enforce, 2) you discover that your ex-spouse was hiding assets, or 3) you discover that your ex-spouse committed fraud during the negotiation of the judgment. But, the most common reason that judgments are set aside to allow the further litigation of the case is a default judgment as there are a little more relaxed standards when it comes to default judgments.
If you think your ex-spouse was hiding assets, or committed some other wrong during the negotiation of your judgment and decree of divorce, contact as soon as possible for a consultation because, as stated above, there are deadlines.