In the case of Huntley v. Huntley, Charles Huntley discovered just how costly it can be if you fail to affirmatively request relief in your pleadings.
After twenty-eight years of marriage Lydia Huntley filed for divorce. In Lydia’s Complaint she requested, among other things, a monetary award, alimony, a portion of the marital share of Charles’s retirement benefits, and attorney’s fees. Charles filed an Answer in which he denied Lydia’s entitlement to a monetary award and asked the court to deny Lydia an award of alimony. Charles did not request any affirmative relief aside from the grant of a divorce nor did he file a Counter-Complaint. Although Charles subsequently requested a portion of Lydia’s retirement benefits at trial, because Charles did not include such a request in his pleadings, the trial court denied his request.
On appeal, Charles argued that the trial court erred in refusing to divide Lydia’s retirement benefits. He also contended that Lydia was not prejudiced by his failure to request an equitable division of her retirement benefits because they were included on the parties’ Rule 9-207 form as marital property. The Court of Appeals disagreed finding that the only relief Charles requested in his Answer was that the trial court “grant him a Divorce, and deny [Lydia] alimony.” Charles never filed a Counter-Complaint or an Amended Answer requesting that the court make an equitable division of Lydia’s retirement benefits.
The Court noted that although Lydia listed her retirement assets on form 9-207, the facts stated on this form are “admissions by the parties in a judicial proceeding” and admissions are not the same as pleadings. Lydia’s request for a portion of Charles’s retirement benefits did not automatically put her on notice that Charles would request a portion of her retirement benefits. The only way Lydia would be aware of this request would be if Charles indicated such in his pleadings. Charles could have amended his pleadings up until fifteen days prior to trial, but he did not. If Lydia had known that Charles was requesting a portion of her retirement benefits she may have used a different trial strategy and/or requested alternative relief.
The lesson learned from this case is that it is essential to put the other side on notice by including any and all relief you want in your pleadings. If you are considering filing for divorce, and/or have been served with divorce papers and need to file an Answer and possibly a Counter-Complaint, Hess Family Law can provide strategic advice based on your particular situation and goals.