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When a defendant doesn't appear in court for a hearing on a motion or for a trial, the court will enter a default judgment; essentially, the plaintiff wins on that matter only by default, not necessarily because the judge agrees with the plaintiff. Courts are often willing to vacate those judgments and allow the defendant to present their case when the defendant makes such a request, despite the fact that the court isn't necessarily obligated to do so. However, in a recent decision by the New Jersey Appellate Division, the court offered an example of when such decisions won't be vacated-namely, where a defendant is both asking for a favor from the court in the form of a vacated default, while also defying the court's reach by avoiding a bench warrant. 

The case for which this opinion was issued was Matison v. Lisnyansky. Yvette Matison and Mark Lisnyansky gave birth to twins in 2004. Matison moved with the children to New Jersey in 2006, into a home purchased by Lisnyansky. Lisnyansky supported his partner and children financially, while living in Europe for work. However, the support payments stopped arriving in 2012, and Matison was forced to turn to the family part for a court order mandating child support. She obtained this in April of 2012, along with a bench warrant for Lisnyansky's arrest to remain outstanding until Lisnyansky caught up with support payments. While Lisnyansky had initially participated in the court proceedings, he retreated to Europe once a warrant was issued, and has not yet returned to the US.

A date was set for a trial on whether Matison should be awarded custody and palimony. Lisnyansky, having fired his attorney and being unwilling to return to the US, did not appear for the trial, resulting in a default judgment being entered against him. Lisnyansky requested that the default be vacated, but this request was denied. He appealed, arguing that custody should be determined based on the child's best interests above all else. The court denied his appeal largely on the basis of the "fugitive disentitlement" doctrine. The Appellate Division explained that, when a defendant in a lawsuit is a fugitive from the court on an issue related to the reason he's being sued, that fugitive can be barred from reaping any benefits from the court. So, while Lisnyansky remained a fugitive from his child support obligations, the court would not vacate the default judgment in favor of Matison or consider a custody-sharing arrangement between the parents.

If you are facing a family law matter in New Jersey, contact the knowledgeable family law attorneys at the Morristown law firm Smith & Doran for a consultation on your claims, at 978-292-0016.

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