In a case approved for publication on February 12, a family court judge ruled that simply because a person fails to participate in a divorce action, his or her legal rights are not trumped at final hearing. In Clementi v. Clementi, (approved for publication), Mr. Clementi failed to respond to his wife’s Complaint for Divorce and was defaulted out of the case. Prior to the final hearing, Mr. Clementi was served with a “Notice of Final Judgment’ as required by New Jersey law in which Ms. Clementi sought to retain the mortgage- free marital residence free and clear of any claims by Mr. Clementi. The Court ruled that simply because Mr. Clementi had ignored the Complaint and Notice of Final Judgment, this outcome was not a “given” but rather that Ms. Clementi still had to meet her burden of proof that the outcome was more fair than unfair. The Judge rescheduled the case so that a hearing could occur in such regard; however (and ironically), Mr. Clementi subsequently retained an attorney and the couple settled the case, including disposition of the marital residence, to their mutual satisfaction.
The “takeaway” from Clementi is that the court, consistent with its inherent equity jurisdiction, must adjudicate cases based upon the particular facts and applicable principles of law rather than simply grant whatever relief is sought against a defaulting party.