How you can be divorced for 35 years and not know it.

The simplest answer to this question is: default.  A default judgment is granted when somebody files a court case, the other party fails to respond, and the court grants the amount or relief requested by the plaintiff due to the failure to respond by the defendant. 

I had a client come to me a week ago, asking for a consent divorce from the woman he married the year my mother was born.  They had separated a year later when he was incarerated, and as a term of his parole, he was told to stay away from his wife.  Yes, I asked whether he was in jail for beating her, and no, I didn’t ask it like that.  So effectively, they’ve been separated since he was let out of jail in the early sixties.  He paid child support for his children, and sometime in the mid seventies, she filed for divorce. 

From what my client says, it sounds like he didn’t have an address at this time, or his wife might not have known it.  When you get divorced, you have to serve the other party, which usually happens by private process (aka somebody you know who isn’t a party to the suit.)  One of two things happened – my client was served, or he wasn’t and then was served by publication because the wife didn’t know his address, meaning she had to publish a notice saying that he was being served in a local newspaper.  If my client didn’t read the newspaper, he never knew about the case. 

When my client said, “she filed some kind of papers way back when”, I immediately looked it up online and called the court he said she filed in.  Nobody found anything, so I assumed the divorce wasn’t final.  My client called at the end of the week to say that he had taken a trip to the state archives and found that he was, in fact, divorced, and had been since the seventies.  I’m not sure if there was a final judgment of divorce issued in the case, but my client hasn’t shown me the paperwork so I can tell him if he is, for sure, divorced.  I drafted the documents just in case he isn’t, so we can proceed. 

Ultimately, the client has been separated for so long, hasn’t acquired any property, and probably isn’t at risk for a claim of alimony or a property dispute anyway, but it must be interesting to find out that you’ve actually been divorced for so long.

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