What is a Motion to Open a Judgment?

Square with a white background with a the text "What is a motion to open a judgment?" plus a gold border.Sometimes, following the final judgment in a divorce or another family law matter such as a child custody action, you may consider filing a “Motion to Open or Set Aside Judgment.”  A Motion to Open is a post-judgment motion that allows the court to change a final court decree.

Read on to learn more.

Generally speaking, Courts don’t like to reopen divorce or family law judgments after they were issued.  Once a judgment issued, all the parties expect that the court’s decision is final and can be relied upon.

To that end, under the court rules, divorce and family law judgments cannot be opened or set aside unless the motion to do so is filed within 4 months following the date of the judgment.  Even within the four months, Connecticut courts have limited the circumstances in which a court may open a judgment to where there is a “good and compelling reason for its modification or vacation,” or if the parties mutually waive the requirement.

The only time a judgment can be opened after the 4-month limitation is when it is shown that the judgment was obtained by fraud, in the absence of actual consent, or because of mutual mistake.

Motion to Open Based Upon Fraud

Opening cases based upon fraud is an actively evolving area of family law in Connecticut, and it is important to have an experienced family law attorney involved.

Generally speaking, for a court to grant a Motion to Open Based Upon Fraud, it must find:

  1. There was no laches or unreasonable delay following the discovery of the fraud by the party bringing the Motion
  2. There is clear proof of perjury or fraud.
  3. There is a reasonable probability that the result of a new trial would be different.

When taken together, these present a high bar.  The mere suspicion of fraud, even if it’s reasonable, is not enough.  You need some proof.  Then, the fraud must rise to a level that the result of a new trial would be likely to be different.  It’s also important to note that the Motion to Open cannot be based upon post-judgment fraud.  The alleged fraud had to occur prior to the final judgment.  In many cases, the Motion to Open Based Upon Fraud is the vehicle used to address a situation where one spouse hid assets during the divorce.  This is also referred to as a “fraudulent concealment” claim.

Read: What Happens if My Spouse Hid Assets in our Divorce?

Motion to Open Based Upon Duress

Motions to Open Based Upon Duress tend to be less common than those based upon fraud.  Generally, these motions happen in the context of divorces were finalized based upon the agreement — or “stipulation” — of the parties.  In other words, through mediation, collaborative divorce, or negotiations and settlement discussions in a litigated divorce, the spouses reached an agreement on all the issues in their divorce.  Then, that agreement was submitted to the court.  After the judge approved it, the stipulated agreement became a final order of the court.

To conclude that a stipulated divorce judgment resulted from duress, the court must find that one spouse’s conduct induced the other spouse to execute the agreement, not as an exercise of that spouse’s free will but because that spouse had no reasonable alternative in light of the circumstances as that spouse perceived them to be.

Motion to Open Based Upon Mutual Mistake

Like Motions to Open Based Upon Duress, Motions to Open Based Upon Mutual Mistake tend to be brought in the context of final judgments that the spouses reached via agreement.  Mutual mistake exists when both spouses were mutually mistaken about the same fact, which created a result that neither party intended.

Motion to Open vs. Appeal

Some people have shared that they find the difference between a Motion to Open and filing an Appeal confusing.  Generally speaking, Motions to Open involve facts, whereas Appeals allege that judge made a legal mistake that should be reversed or reconsidered.

Next Steps

To start making a plan for your post-judgment issue, reach out.  Our first step at Freed Marcroft, the Goals & Planning Conference, is designed to get to the heart of your problem and unveil your true goals.  We analyze those goals, plus the facts of your case, and present you with recommendations and options to move forward.

Schedule your Goals & Planning Conference today, or contact us either here or by phone at 860-530-4282.

Written by Meghan Freed