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The Divorce Encyclopedia
Third Parties

Term Definition Third Parties - individuals, besides the husband and wife, who become parties in a divorce action.
Application in Divorce A third party is one who is not a party to an action, dispute, agreement or transaction but who may have rights and interests in it.

A joinder sometimes adds third parties to a legal action. In a divorce, for example, third parties, such as business partners, can be added to a divorce action if the plaintiff develops a cause for action asserting that they helped the respondent secret marital assets.

A co-respondent in an divorce action alleging adultery is a third party. Sometimes, a spouse will seek to join a co-respondent in a divorce action if he or she believes that person transmitted a sexual disease to his or her spouse. Such an action would necessary mean using adultery as a grounds for divorce.

The term third party may appear in questions involving allegations that a party is a child’s psychological parent. Here, as part of the test in determining a child’s relationship with someone other than his or her parents, the courts maintain that the legal parent must have consented to the relation of the child with the third party.

Grandparents may become third parties appealing for the right to visit a child whose parents have been divorced.

The common law doctrine of necessaries means that person becomes liable to the third parties who provide the necessaries, such as a grocer, when he or she fails to support another to whom he has a duty to support.

Sometimes a third-party issue may surface when someone other than the spouse has a legitimate interest in marital property. In this situation, courts may join the third party to action. When a party is joined, issues about the propriety of the joining may surface as well as questions about the party’s indispensability to the action. For example, in considering the award of an automobile to a wife a court joined the husband’s mother to the action because the vehicle was titled in her name. Without a joinder, a farm, titled in the husband’s father’s name and subject to an sales contract, could not be classified as martial property because the contract named the couple as buyers and him as seller.

The rationale behind permitting third-party intervention is that it avoids multiple suits, circuitous actions and ends the action in one proceeding.

In general, a third person can be named in a divorce action "only when he or she has conspired to defraud the other out of property rights."

A third party is not indispensable when the divorce action merely values the property "or determines marital interests but does not affect the third party’s rights."

The rights of third parties not named in a divorce action survive and equitable distribution award, and the parties are not barred by res judicata or collateral estoppel.

So long as an action does not affect a creditor’s rights, a court may apportion marital debts between the spouses without naming the lender a third party.

No-fault uncontested divorces do not normally involve third parties.

See also Collateral Estoppel, Joinder, and Res Judicata.

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