You only get one bite at the apple. It might be an over-used cliché, but it’s absolutely true in many divorce proceedings. As California’s Fifth District Court of Appeals recently explained, spouses and their lawyers must be actively involved in their cases and must act promptly to raise any problems or issues in order to ensure that they’re addressed.
After filing for divorce, Husband and Wife through their attorneys informed a trial judge assigned to the matter that they’d reached a settlement on all of the outstanding issues related to property division. The parties’ lawyers explained the details of the settlement, which included allocating various types of property among the former spouses, to the trial court. In response to the trial judge’s inquiry, both Husband and Wife said they understood and agreed to the terms of the settlement.
When Husband’s lawyer wrote out the terms of the settlement agreement, however, Wife refused to sign it. Importantly, she didn’t formally object to the terms of the settlement in court. Nor did she file a motion asking the trial court to resolve any outstanding issues. Instead, Husband’s attorney later filed the settlement as a proposed judgment. After two additional months in which no one filed any objections to the proposal, the trial court adopted the judgment.
Wife later appealed the decision, arguing that the judgment was significantly different than the settlement agreement that the parties had reached before Husband’s attorney put the agreement in writing. For example, the judgment required Wife to make a roughly $25,000 “equalization” payment, paid when certain community property (like a house) can’t be split evenly, that the parties hadn’t previously agreed to. Wife argued that this issue wasn’t discussed before the court when the lawyers explained the terms of the settlement arrangement.
Affirming the decision on appeal, the Fifth District said Wife waived her right to challenge the judgment terms by failing to object to the proposed order that Husband entered with the trial court. “[Wife] had ample opportunity to inform the trial court of any alleged error or discrepancy in the proposed judgment, as expressly permitted under the rules and yet she failed to do so,” the Court explained. “She could have, but did not, raise the same objections that she is arguing on appeal in the trial court.” The Court noted in particular that the trial judge waited two months after receiving the proposed order before issuing a final order. Wife took no action to address the matter during this time, according to the Court.
As this case makes clear, it is important for parties to a divorce proceeding to remain up to speed with and actively involved in their case. If you’re considering seeking a divorce in California, contact San Jose divorce lawyer John S. Yohanan. With more than 30 years of experience, Mr. Yohanan is an accomplished family law attorney who has helped a number of clients resolve property division and other issues on optimal terms. Call our office at (408) 297-0700 or contact us online to schedule a consultation.
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