Although it may be difficult to imagine for someone going through the difficult process of a divorce, on occasion divorce cases can linger for months, if not years, with little to no activity on the docket. The parties may have filed divorce papers, but never got around to following through with the divorce process. Or, the parties may have separated and then settled into new lives, never actually filing divorce papers or finalizing the divorce. The parties may have even reconciled. It is not unusual to have a client who has been separated for five, ten, sometimes fifteen years without having formalized his or her divorce.
While there is certainly case law addressing this issue in the context of alimony, support, and the asset division, that is a bigger subject for another time. This post simply addresses a simple question – what happens in the court system if there is no activity on a divorce that has already been filed?
The court system actually provides for such situations. Twice a year, according to Supplemental Probate and Family Court Rule 408, a court registrar is supposed to prepare a list of cases (of any nature, not just divorces), where no activity is reflected on the docket for more than 6 months and no next event is scheduled. This is supposed to happen in January and July of each year.
The court is then supposed to send a notice to the parties in that case (or their lawyers, if a lawyer has entered an appearance), stating the case will be dismissed within 60 days.
However, in order to avoid the dismissal, a party (or the parties, jointly) can do one of two things: either request further proceedings in the case, or file a motion to avoid the dismissal explaining what steps will be taken for the case to proceed.
Unless one of those two events happen, the court will dismiss the case and a judgment of dismissal will enter. That judgment will be sent to the parties.
The judgment is without prejudice to either party filing the same action again.
Depending on the circumstances, parties whose case has been dormant for more than a few months may want to take steps to ensure their case is not (or has not) been dismissed.