Divorce litigation is often associated with acrimony and emotional turmoil. Families are divided and spouses often are going through extreme stress. This can create an atmosphere where spouses are often acting out and engaging in deceitful behavior. In certain circumstances, spouses may even move to obtain a divorce judgment by fraud or “ill practices” which may involve forgery or misrepresentation of facts. These actions may not only be considered criminal, but there may be extensive civil litigation which results from fraud.
One spouse may realize that they can “cut off” the other spouse from obtaining spousal support. Or, even worse, try to avoid paternity or child support by misrepresenting facts relating to minor children. A judgment of divorce obtained by fraud can have severe financial repercussions for those involved.
For the spouse who has been wrongfully divorced by a Judgment obtained by fraud, there is recourse. Louisiana Code of Civil procedure art. 2002 provides that:
A final judgment shall be annulled if it is rendered:
(1) Against an incompetent person not represented as required by law.
(2) Against a defendant who has not been served with process as required by law and who has not waived objection to jurisdiction, or against whom a valid final default judgment has not been taken.
(3) By a court which does not have jurisdiction over the subject matter of the suit.
Louisiana Code of Civil Procedure art. 2004 also provides that:
A. A final judgment obtained by fraud or ill practices may be annulled.
That being said, if a spouse suspects they have been divorced by fraud, there are some important limitations on bringing an action to annul a Divorce Judgment. First, the action to annul a judgment on these grounds must be brought within one year of the discovery by the spouse. La.C.C. Pro. art. 2004(B). Second, if the spouse engaged in the fraud, he/she may not be able to invalidate the judgment.
Louisiana courts have also acknowledged that annulling a Judgment of Divorce may have catastrophic effects on children and new spouses (who may find themselves in a bigamous marriage). The Louisiana Supreme Court stated in Wilson v. Calvin, 221 La. 451, 59 So.2d 451, 453 (1952) that:
“There is a strong public policy against disturbing or declaring invalid a judgment of divorce, especially after a long period of time where the marital status of innocent parties who relied on the validity of that judgment would be disturbed, and more particularly where a decree would render innocent parties guilty of bigamy and cast a cloud on the legitimacy of their children.”
If a spouse feels that they have been divorced as a result of fraud, that spouse should seek immediate legal counsel to discuss the available options. Every case is unique and should be evaluated based on its special set of circumstances.