This Week’s Blog by Andrew M. Eliot
- A divorce judgment may be “reopened” on the basis of fraud, and potentially set aside, if it is discovered after the judgment was issued that a party made intentional material misrepresentations to the Court.
- Proof of fraud alone is insufficient to have a judgment reopened; a party seeking to reopen a judgment must also prove that the outcome of a new trial, untainted by the fraud, would likely be different.
As experienced family law and divorce attorneys with offices in Greenwich and Westport, Connecticut, we frequently represent clients who are concerned that their spouse is concealing or secreting assets or income. While such suspicions often turn out to be unfounded or imagined, there are indeed cases where such concealment is discovered during the divorce process (typically during the course of financial discovery), and can therefore can be addressed prior to judgment (whether such judgment is in the form of a judicial decision issued after a trial, or a negotiated agreement). But what if the concealment of assets or income is not discovered until after a divorce judgment has been rendered? While such a post-judgment discovery of fraud presents a far trickier problem to resolve, it is a problem that can, in certain limited circumstances, be remedied.
If a party can prove in Court that a judgment was in fact based upon fraud or intentional material misrepresentations, Connecticut Courts do have the discretion to reopen such a judgment and set it aside. That said, the legal threshold that must be met in order for a Court to reopen a judgment is quite high. Specifically, Connecticut’s Supreme Court has established the following minimum criteria which must be met by a moving party before any motion to reopen a judgment may be granted: (1) there must be clear proof of perjury or fraud; (2) there must have been no unreasonable delay by the injured party after the fraud was discovered; and (3) there must be a substantial likelihood that the result of a new trial would be different. See Billington v. Billington, 220 Conn. 212 (1991).
Collectively, these criteria present a high hurdle to overcome. The mere suspicion of fraud, even if the reasonably based, is insufficient for a Court to reopen a judgment. Rather, there must be clear proof of the fraud and, perhaps even more notably, the fraud must rise to a level sufficient enough for the moving party to prove that the outcome of a new trial — one untainted by the fraud — would likely be different.
Accordingly, even in instances where a genuine post-judgment fraud has been discovered, an aggrieved party should give careful consideration to his or her likelihood of success prior to investing resources in post-judgment litigation.