This is the next post in a series of articles discussing the process by which Las Vegas residents may seek a divorce when their spouse is not living in the country. My previous article discussed how such matters may be resolved by a settlement between the parties. If both spouses agree to all relevant terms of the divorce, they may proceed with a Joint Petition for an Uncontested Divorce and handle the matter relatively quickly. Your attorney can advise you whether a settlement is in your best interest and how to proceed with this approach when your spouse is abroad. An uncontested divorce requires the Las Vegas resident to know the whereabouts of their counterparty and for the spouses to be in complete agreement. In this article, I will address divorce by default when the overseas spouse fails to respond to a Complaint for Divorce or their location is unknown. If you need assistance with such matters, contact my office today to speak with a lawyer.
When a party files a Complaint for Divorce in Las Vegas, the other party (the defendant) must be served with the Complaint and given the opportunity to respond by filing an Answer within 20 days after being served. As previously discussed in this series, service of process may be accomplished in one of three ways when a spouse is living outside of the country. If their location is known, they can be personally served or formally served through the U.S. Consulate. If they cannot be located, on the other hand, they may be served by publication with the Court’s permission. If the individual fails to respond within the requisite period, the plaintiff may file an Application for Default Judgment, outlining the plaintiff’s desired outcome with respect to property division, spousal support, custody, etc. Once the Application is filed, the case will be placed on the Court’s uncontested divorce docket and a hearing will be scheduled to review the request. Another attempt must be made to notify the defendant of the hearing and therefore, it may not occur for several weeks. In many cases, the plaintiff’s attorney prepares a draft divorce decree prior to the hearing. The Judge may sign the decree immediately and grant the plaintiff’s request for divorce based on a default judgment.
The hearing itself is generally a fairly simple proceeding at which the Judge will ask the plaintiff about their marital assets, debts, requests related to custody and spousal support, etc. It is important to understand, however, that the absence of the spouse from the process will not impact the Court’s application of Nevada law to the resolution of the case. Nevada’s community property laws, for instance, will still govern the division of marital assets and debts. The plaintiff should be prepared to answer questions from the Judge regarding any exceptions to such rules being requested. For example, if a spouse’s Application for Default Judgment contains a request that the absent spouse be held liable for all marital debt while the plaintiff be awarded all of the marital property the plaintiff should be able to justify the request. The plaintiff may, for instance, present evidence that the absent spouse incurred all of the debt before the marriage and that the marital property was owned solely by the plaintiff before the marriage. Absent such proof, the Court will apply Nevada law even though the other party is in default.
My practice is dedicated to handling family law issues, including divorces. I have experience with default judgment cases when one spouse is living abroad. If you need assistance with such matters, contact my office to speak with a lawyer.