Law School Case Brief
Lacks v. Lacks - 41 N.Y.2d 71, 390 N.Y.S.2d 875, 359 N.E.2d 384 (1976)
Where a wife challenged the validity of a divorce decree due to claimed defects in court findings of the husband's state residency, amounting to errors of law, her appeal the divorce judgment under N.Y. C.P.L.R. 5015 subd. [a], par. 4 could not be successful on that basis.
Appellant wife challenged the final decree of divorce from respondent husband claiming that errors of law or fact which might have been committed in the divorce action deprived the court of jurisdiction to adjudicate the case under N.Y. C.P.L.R. 5015 subd. [a], par. 4. Special Term vacated the final judgment, but the appellate division reversed. The error refers to the husband’s failure to satisfy the durational residence requirement in order for him to obtain a divorce. Since the requirement is jurisdictional, then the judgment is void since a court is powerless to render a valid judgment without subject matter jurisdiction.
Is a court’s error on the issue of residence enough to deprive it of jurisdiction to render judgment in a divorce action or were they merely errors in the substantive elements of the causes brought?
On appeal, the court affirmed, holding that N.Y. C.P.L.R. 5015 subd. [a], par. 4 did not apply because the contentions of appellant were not addressed to bases for subject matter jurisdiction. The court held that the overly stated principle that lack of subject matter jurisdiction made a final judgment absolutely void was not applicable to cases which, upon analysis, did not involve jurisdiction, but merely substantive elements of a cause for relief. There was considerable evidence of residence by the husband, and the court obviously determined that the husband had some residence even if not of the duration to satisfy the matrimonial statutes. The court concluded that the point was that the litigation having gone to final judgment, the right to review by appeal having been exhausted, that was and should have been the end of the matter.
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