In the legal world, the word “default” is dirty. It’s what happens when someone has totally dropped the ball. After being served with a complaint for divorce, a petition for paternity, or a petition to modify child custody, visitation, or child support, and after the other party was told that they had 20 days to respond, the other party did…NOTHING. They ignored the 20 days to respond and did nothing, or if they did something, it surely wasn’t what they were supposed to do. You might ask, “what happens now?” Well, in non-legal terms, the person who screwed up gets screwed. The party who didn’t screwed up ordinarily gets exactly what they were asking for.
Sounds scary, doesn’t it? It should. When children are involved, it is terrifying. A parent’s worst nightmare. Imagine a child who has been living with one parent for years, suddenly being ordered to live with another parent they barely know, because the parent who has been raising the child failed to respond. Or worse yet, imagine an abusive parent suddenly being awarded custody of an abused child because the non-abusive parent didn’t respond. Surely that doesn’t actually happen, does it? Don’t fool yourself. It happens. It happens in Wyoming.
I have had parents call me after they have received a default judgment against them. They are sobbing, hysterical, and horrified that they have just lost their children. Sometimes they tell me they have talked to another attorney, or someone they know, and have been told there’s really not much that can be done. Often there are reasons given as to why they did not respond within twenty days. They had been talking with the other parent and believed they were working things out. They had talked to the other parent’s attorney and believed they were working things out. They were confused as to how to correctly respond.
If you are reading this and you have lost a child by default, I urge you to contact an attorney immediately, whether that is me or someone else. Call an attorney and ask for help. If the attorney you talk to says they can’t help you, call me, or call another attorney for a second opinion. Default is scary, but it is not necessarily impossible to overcome. But the passage of time from when default is entered can make a difference. The faster it is addressed, the better the chances are to fix it.
In cases that don’t involve a child, a default judgment is difficult to overcome. If child custody is involved, however, Wyoming courts do not prefer default judgments. Relief in these situations can be granted. This is not an easy road to have to go down, but travel the road if you must, with some help. Because children should not be lost by default.