Many individuals in the throes of a divorce hope and pray for a reconciliation. Although this does not often come, occasionally, love does conquer all, and parties reconcile. In the best case scenario, this happens before the parties have spent a lot of blood, sweat, tears and hard earned money in obtaining a divorce and well before a divorce is final. However, sometimes, distance makes the heart grow fonder, and parties reconcile after a final divorce decree is entered. For some, returning to life as usual minus the wedding ring is an acceptable compromise, and some use this as an opportunity to throw a lavish re-marriage wedding. However, in certain cases, the most beneficial solution is to vacate or "take back" the divorce decree. But is that legal?
One New Hampshire couple asked just that of that state's appellate court in a recent case. Terrie Harmon and her currently ex-husband, Thomas McCarrron, asked the courts to undo their divorce as they had reconciled, and both parties had business interests that would be better served by having the divorce be vacated than remarrying. Earlier this month, the New Hampshire Supreme Court ultimately determined that the state divorce laws give them the power to grant but not to undo divorces. Thus, the parties' 2014 divorce decree remains in full force.
Across the country, states differ on when and if they will undue a divorce with most states agreeing to vacate divorce decrees under certain circumstances and in certain time-frames. The most common reason that a court will be willing to vacate a divorce is in the event of fraud.
Can you "take back" your divorce under Pennsylvania law? Pennsylvania law requires that a petition to open or vacate a divorce decree be made within a specific time period (30 days to 5 years depending on the circumstances). The petition must allege " extrinsic fraud, lack of jurisdiction over the subject matter or a fatal defect apparent upon the face of the record must be made within five years after entry of the final decree." Intrinsic fraud relates to a matter adjudicated by the judgment, including perjury and false testimony. What is clear from this statute is that the New Hampshire couple would likely also be out of luck in Pennsylvania. What is also clear is that decisions by the court to vacate a divorce decree are very factually dependent and such cases would likely require a lawyer.
If you have questions about what to do in the face of a reconciliation with your ex-spouse, contact our Pittsburgh Office today!