Overturning a Final Judgement In Family Court
Disclosure of information is critical in contested Charleston Family Law matters. In certain instances failure to disclose information during litigation can lead to the reversal of a later judgement.
Several years ago I was served with a motion demanding to overturn a Charleston Family Law final order I had earlier obtained. During the discovery phase in the underlying litigation I had delivered to opposing counsel a marital asset spreadsheet. This spreadsheet was clearly marked as a preliminary draft and noted that the figures had not been verified. My client’s financial holdings were extensive and it was only an 18 month marriage so, in lieu of engaging in extensive and costly discovery, we agreed to give opposing counsel a written release permitting him to get whatever he needed.
We reached a settlement during mediation which we thought was very favorable to us. We later learned that opposing counsel never used the release we gave him and he settled the case in sole reliance upon the draft, unverified data contained in spreadsheet we had given to him.
Once this lawyer learned what he had done, he then sued our client for fraud! Of special note is the fact that one of the most critical pieces of information in this case was a deed and mortgage on file with the RMC that was available online not only to the opposing attorney but also to the general public!
The rules permitting a reversal of a Civil Judgement based upon fraud are very clear. In Ray v Ray the South Carolina Supreme Court established clear guidelines for reversing a final Judgement based upon fraud. The Court held that a party must prove that “extrinsic fraud” was committed during litigation. The Court defined extrinsic fraud as the type of fraud that is:
…often difficult, if not impossible to discover during the litigation. For example, concealing assets through an unknown third-party not subject to discovery is extrinsic fraud in that it constitutes conduct or activities outside of the court proceedings which deprive the other party of the opportunity to fully exhibit and try his case.
In other words, there must be a conscious effort designed to conceal information and defraud an opposing party, preventing them from fully presenting their case. Without a plan or scheme to conceal information that would otherwise be made available, it will not be possible to overturn a family court order based upon fraud.
The bottom line is that in order to overturn a Final Judgement due to fraud in Family Court, a person must show a conscious scheme or plan to deprive a party of their ability to be heard. It’s an extremely high standard and will often fail.