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Res Judicata (or why you need to get it right the first time in Court)

Res judicata is a Latin term still used in Courts across the country today. It’s also referred to as “claim preclusion,” and its English translation is “a matter judged.” The term refers broadly to the doctrine barring relitigation of claims that have already been decided. In essence, the doctrine of res judicata provides that a cause of action between parties that has been finally determined on the merits by a Court with jurisdiction cannot be relitigated by those parties in a new proceeding. The doctrine exists to protect judicial resources by preventing litigants from trying the same matter again and again until they receive their desired result. It also protects litigants, who would otherwise have to respond to that same claim each time it was newly filed.

Generally, for res judicata to apply, it requires the same claim, between the same parties, and a valid and final judgment on the merits. “On the merits” typically requires a trial. However, in Divorce and Family Law, many important issues between the parties are decided by motion. Under the principles of res judicata, claims that are actually litigated and determined before trial (i.e, on motion) are also barred from being relitigated. Keep this in mind! If you file a motion requesting termination of alimony without representation and that motion is denied, the opposing party can raise res judicata to bar you from returning to Court later on and trying to get things right.

Obviously, an attorney can help to ensure that your claim is properly filed and litigated the first time around. While the choice to hire an attorney is different for everyone and requires balancing the importance of the outcome against your financial resources, we invite you to explore our services and schedule an initial consultation. If representation is right for you, the DeTommaso Law Group is an excellent choice.

Note: “Denied without prejudice” is not the same thing as “denied.” When a claim is denied without prejudice, it may be filed again in the future.