What happens if a spouse simply ignores a divorce case?

What happens if one spouse files for divorce, and the other spouse just ignores it – doesn’t respond, doesn’t show up in court, etc.?

This actually happens more often than you might think.

In legal terms, if someone brings a lawsuit and the person who’s being sued doesn’t respond at all, that’s called a “default.” Most of the time, if someone defaults, they simply lose the case.

Divorce, however, is a little different.

Recently, a wife in New Jersey filed for divorce and asked to be given sole ownership of the couple’s home, which was worth about $200,000. The husband never responded. As a result, the wife was given a “default judgment” granting the divorce.

The wife next argued that, since the husband had defaulted, she should get the home all to herself.

But the court disagreed. Under state law, when a divorce is granted, the couple’s property must be split between them according to principles of fairness. Since the husband had never said he was willing to let the wife have the house (and in fact, he never said anything at all, period), the fairness rule still applied.

Therefore, even though the husband defaulted, if the wife wants the house to herself, she must still convince the court that giving it to her would be a fair thing to do.