Once in the midst of a family law action, it often feels like time stands still or at least drags way out and plods along. It is easy to get caught up in the emotional tidal wave that family actions involve and more often than not, rather than face it head on and rip the band-aid off, people do what we call “play ostrich”. This means that they get the Court papers and notices, but would rather bury their heads in the sand that have to deal with it on the theory that if it is just ignored long enough, it will go away.
This is partially true. It WILL go away eventually. There will come a point where the Court will go ahead and hear and decide your case WITHOUT you. This Court calls this proceeding by default, meaning the litigant has had proper notice and opportunity to participate in the litigation, but has chosen not to. This effectively gives the Court the go-ahead to hear the case and enter an Order or Orders without the defaulting party’s (the Ostrich’s) involvement.
While taking this approach is certainly one way to handle it, it is not the best or most effective way. By not acting timely, the Court does not have all of the information it needs to search for and determine the truth and make an informed decision. The Court only has what one side has presented without the benefit of hearing anything from the other side. If that sounds like a stacked deck, it pretty much is.
But, it’s avoidable. First, when you get those Court notices or letters from attorneys, do something with them. Read them. Call an attorney and schedule a consultation. Call the Court and find out what is going on if you cannot figure it out. Just DO NOT ignore them, unless you want to do so at your own peril and perhaps that of your children and/or wallet, depending on the issues. As painful as it seems, it is much better to address the issues head on the first time they come up than sweep them under the rug and hope they don’t come back to bite you.
However, if you did not take action immediately, don’t panic. There are ways to address it. For example, if it is a divorce action, an application can be made to set the Default, or possibly even the Judgment aside and get back in the game. Custody, parenting time and support issues are always subject to changes in circumstances (so no, they are never really “final”) which means that a modification application can be filed under the appropriate circumstances.
Do not fool yourself into a false sense of security that ignoring it will make it go away. Conversely, do not fool yourself that time is of no consequence and wait so long that you find yourself appearing in Court only for the Judge to ask you—and they will—“WHERE have you BEEN all this time?” It can have a significant impact on your legal rights and responsibilities that you may never have even considered.