California law allows a party to a divorce proceeding to ask a court to set aside a judgment in certain circumstances, including those in which the other party has committed fraud. In In re Marriage of Nhothsiri>, the Fifth District Court of Appeals explains that a person seeking to set aside a judgment must do so within strict time limits.Wife filed a Petition for Dissolution in 2007. Husband alleged in his response that the couple had married Jan. 5, 2000. Following a hearing, the trial court approved the divorce in January 2010 and awarded spousal support to Wife, citing Jan. 5, 2000 as the date of marriage.
Wife later sought to set aside the judgment, pursuant to section 2122 of the Family Code, after she was notified that the support would end in June 2011. Claiming that Husband “fraudulently provided the incorrect date of marriage,” Wife argued that the couple was actually married in Laos in 1981 in a religious ceremony that did “not require a marriage certificate.” She further stated that the couple obtained a marriage certificate in California in January 2000.
Noting that January 5, 2000, was repeatedly and consistently used as the date of marriage throughout the proceedings, the trial court denied Wife’s motion to set aside the judgment. The court held that Wife was barred from seeking to set aside the judgment based on fraud because she didn’t file the motion within a year of when she knew or should have known about the fraud, as required by section 2122.
The Fifth District affirmed the lower court’s decision on appeal, finding that it was supported by substantial evidence. “The credibility of appellant’s claim that she learned of respondent’s assertion of the 2000 marriage date only in 2011 was rejected by the trial court on ample evidence, including appellant’s recitation of that same date in her response to the petition for dissolution she filed in 2007,” the appeals court found.
The court rejected Wife’s argument that her motion was one for breach of spousal fiduciary duty under section 1101 of the Family Code, rather than a motion to set aside the judgment pursuant to section 2122. Under this theory, the one-year limit on which the lower court based its ruling would not apply.
“Not only was this theory not raised in the trial court, but the trial court’s findings preclude successfully recharacterizing the action from one arising under section 2122 to one under section 1101,” the Fifth District explained. Specifically, the court ruled that Wife could not show that Husband took unfair advantage of her – as required under section 2122 – because she was “fully apprised” that Husband was using Jan. 5, 2000 as the wedding date during the proceedings.
Fraud is just one of the potential issues that can arise in a California divorce case. Fortunately, much of the animosity associated with divorce litigation can be avoided in many cases by considering alternatives such as mediation and collaborative divorce. With offices throughout the Bay Area, California divorce lawyer Lorna Jaynes provides innovative legal tools to resolve family law disputes without the bitterness and acrimony engendered by the adversarial process.
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