Just the other day a client mentioned to me that he had been divorced in the past (and it was handled by a full-service law firm at a full-service fee of several thousand dollars…obviously, not Davis Divorce Law). That lawyer told him that “The decree would be final in 30 days after the Judge signed it.” Actually, it is final as soon as the judge signs the final decree and the clerk enters it in the Court record, something that happens the same day. It is a fact that, before the ink is dry on your decree, you and your new partner can immediately walk into the marriage licensing department in your county and obtain a marriage license immediately and get married as soon as you wish… all of this well within the above-mentioned 30 day period.
So, was that lawyer wrong? Not exactly. There is a 30 day “exceptions” period after the Judge signs during which period a party can file exceptions challenging the validity of the divorce, but if the case was handled properly, both parties to the divorce action cooperated in the completion of the divorce and unless “fraud, accident or mistake” is involved, filing exceptions would be a costly waste of time.
If one party hid assets from the other and those assets are subsequently discovered, allowing the divorce to stand it would hardly be fair, would it? I have handled literally tens of thousands of low-cost, simple, uncontested, no-fault divorces in Pennsylvania and exceptions were filed in exactly NONE of them; however, I recall about about three cases from many years ago where my clients performed a fraud on the Court (without my knowledge, of course). In each of those cases, the Court required that the final signature of the defendant spouse (the other party, not my client) be notarized, and they were. What was the fraud? First let me tell you how I first found out about these problems.
In two of the cases, I received phone calls from the defendants’ lawyers well after the divorce was final, maybe within a month or two. In the third case, it was the defendant himself who called. In all three calls I was told that the defendant had not signed anything at all. My response was that there were sworn, signed and notarized documents from each of those defendants. The retort was that, be that as it may, the defendants had signed nothing! What had happened? In each of those cases, which were long ago and spaced apart several years from the others, my clients had taken an individual with forged identification to the notary and that individual pretended to be the defendant and signed the divorce document!
Once it was proven to my satisfaction that those frauds had occurred – none of my clients responded to my letters asking if it were true – I informed the defendants (or their lawyers as the case was) that I would not oppose an official request to the Court to throw the divorce out of court. None of those clients had ever informed their spouses a divorce action had been filed! Moreover, imagine the problems if any of those clients had remarried by then! (None of the defendants had remarried as each of them assumed they were still married.)
Recently, a client called me, well after her divorce was final, and asked if I could “undo” the divorce. Seems that her ex – the defendant – had recently died and had accumulated quite a bit of money since the divorce and he had not remarried, so my client figured that, if I could “undo” the divorce, she would be a widow and would inherit all the dough. Of course, she was stuck with being divorced, was not a widow, and had no more right to her ex’s funds than I did. I have encountered defendants who refused to sign simply because they had no interest in marrying again and preferred to attempt to out-live their spouses in hopes of financial gain at the other party’s demise.
As you can see, there can be rare and unusual circumstances where a divorce can be successfully set aside, but you have a better chance of being struck by lightning than coming into those circumstances.