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Click here for the full text of this decision FACTS:Rita Maldonado filed for divorce from Rafael Narvaez in November 2000. The two had never been officially married, but they had an informal marriage and shared three children together. Rafael was served with the petition, but instead of filing a response, Rafael signed the officer’s return that was attached to the citation, had the document notarized and mailed it the district clerk’s office. Rafael did not designate the document as a response, nor did he include his address. The district court signed a default divorce decree in March 2001. On May 15, Rafael filed a motion for new trial and to set aside the judgment. Either the judge did not rule on it, or the motion was overruled by operation of law; the record is unclear. On May 10, 2002, Rafael filed a bill of review. At the bench trial, he presented evidence that was corroborated by Rita that he had been married to someone else before and during his relationship with Rita. He also said he was not the father of one of the three children (the divorce decree ordered him to pay child support for all three children). The trial court ruled that although Rafael had a meritorious defense, he had not satisfied the other elements necessary for granting a bill of review. Those elements are: 1. a meritorious defense to the cause of action alleged, 2. which he was prevented from making by the fraud, accident, or wrongful act of the opposing party or by official mistake, and 3. the absence of fault or negligence of the complainant. Rafael appeals, arguing the judgment is void, that he was denied due process, and that the bill of review should have been granted. HOLDING:Affirmed. Rafael’s assertion that the judgment is void is based on his arguments that he could not have been married to Rita, due to his prior marriage and that the trial court lacked jurisdiction to divide property in another county. The court characterizes Rafael’s contention as a collateral attack on the judgment, which would obviate the need for Rafael to prove the elements of a bill of review. However, the fact that Rafael was married to another woman was a defense to the divorce, not a jurisdictional deficiency. Any restraint on distributing property in another county is on county courts, not general district courts. Rafael argues he was denied due process because he did not receive notice of the default judgment hearing, even though he filed the equivalent of an answer. The court agrees with Rita that what Rafael filed could not be construed as an answer. It was not designated as such, and his address was not on it. Though Rafael claims his address was on the envelope that the citation was in, the envelope was not part of the record and nothing else indicated that his address was indeed on the envelope. “[E]ven if the envelope had included his address and had been retained, it would have added nothing, because the document that [Rafael] filed with the court was not a letter, did not include [Rafael's] current address, and did not even acknowledge receipt or acceptance of the citation and petition; it in no way responds to the petition for divorce and cannot be construed as an appearance.” With respect to the bill of review, Rafael claims he did not have to prove the second element because of an official mistake: the clerk disposed of the envelope with his address on it. Without this mistake, Rafael continues, the returned signed citation becomes nothing more than a piece of paper in the file, not an answer. The court notes that the official mistake doctrine has always been narrowly construed to cover errors committed in the discharge of a court official’s duties that prevent the party from presenting a defense or mounting any post-judgment action. The doctrine does not apply here, though, because Rafael did not also prove that he was “free from fault or negligence in failing to assert is meritorious defense � the third element of a bill of review.” He did not file a proper response and was therefore at least partially responsible for the court’s failure to recognize it as an answer. The court adds that even if the clerk did commit an official mistake, Rafael did not show that he exercised due diligence in pursuing his legal remedies. It is unclear if his motion for new trial was timely filed, but then he waited for over a year after the divorce decree to file a bill of review. OPINION:Smith, J.; Law, Smith and Puryear, JJ.

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