In domestic law cases, whether it is a pending divorce, a child custody case, or child support modification, many litigants are anxious to find out how the judge will rule. Oftentimes there is a lot of information presented by way of exhibits and testimony at a hearing. Sometimes, hearings can be just a few hours, and other times hearings will stretch on for 3 or 4 days, spanning several months. This can be very frustrating to a parent who is seeking to exercise more time with his or her child, or change custody and remove the child from what that parent believes is a bad situation. So the question arises, just how much time should a judge take to rule on a case?
While many cases, such as protective orders, or misdemeanor criminal cases, the judge may rule from the bench immediately following closing arguments from the attorneys, with such high stakes (the future health and welfare of minor children), lengthy hearings, and copious amounts of evidence, a judge may be reluctant to make a snap decision. When this happens, which is often the case in the domestic arena, a judge will conclude the hearing by stating “I will take this under advisement.” What this means is that the judge, in theory, will take some time to go over his or her notes from the trial, relook at all the evidence, and consider very carefully his or her decision. While this extended wait may be very frustrating for a parent, it is often important for the judge to take his or her time in really making the best decision he or she sees fit for the matter before the court.
At some point, after anxiously awaiting a decision from the judge, when should attorneys and litigants become concerned that the decision is taking too long?
Pursuant to Indiana Trial Rule 53.2,(QUOTE 1) titled “Time for holding issue under advisement; delay of entering a judgment,” a judge has 90 days to issue a ruling on all matters (motions and issues brought before the court) in a given case, after he or she takes the matter under advisement. If a judge does not issue a ruling within this specified time the pending issues and case may be withdrawn from the judge, and transferred to the Supreme Court of Indiana for appointment of a special judge.(QUOTE 2)
In a recently decided case from the Indiana Court of Appeals, In Re the Paternity of V.A., the trial court had several pending motions before it, such as the Petition to Establish Paternity, Custody, and Parenting Time, Petition for Contempt and Request for the Return of Property. The trial court issued its order, within the specified 90 days, but the Court of Appeals held that the trial court did not rule on ALL pending motions, and therefore, did not comply with Trial Rule 53.2. The Court of Appeals remanded the case back to the trial court for a ruling on the petitions and motions that it failed to issue any ruling on in its final order, namely legal custody and the Petition for Contempt. The Court of Appeals noted that specifically with respect to the Petition for Contempt, the trial court has the discretion to find a party in contempt, or not, but the opinion of the Court of Appeals indicates that the trial court must indicate its determination, and must still state its finding, even if it does not find that the party is in contempt.
We hope that this blog post has been helpful in understanding why the trial court sometimes takes matters under advisement rather than ruling immediately, and the timing for issuing a final order. Ciyou & Dixon, P.C. practices throughout the state of Indiana. This blog post was written by attorney, Lori Schmeltzer.