Most litigants to go court expecting to “win” their case. However, most domestic (divorce or paternity) cases are not one side really winning or losing because so many issues are being decided, such as physical custody, legal custody, child support, and in divorce cases, property division. So it is unlikely any particular litigant “wins” every issue. Most litigants accept the trial court decision. However, there is a right to appeal. This is where the concept of special findings comes up. The trial court can hear the evidence and then decide the case by a general judgment, or it can—if requested by a party before the receipt of evidence—enter special finding.1 The parties then get to present special proposed findings after the receipt of evidence and before the court enters its own findings. This blog explores the benefits of special findings.
With a general judgment, the trial court hears the evidence, and issues a written order which may be very short. On appeal, if any of the facts (testimony and exhibits) supports the trial court’s findings, then the Court of Appeals may affirm. However, the Court of Appeals will reverse in cases if the trial court applied the wrong law. In other words, in the absence of special findings, the Court of Appeals gives the great deference to the trial court’s decision on weighing the he-said, she-said. On appeal, this is not quite the case with special finding, and it is easier to obtain a reversal if the trial court did not correctly enter special findings.
Special findings provide several benefits for the parties. First, the parties are able to provide proposed special findings in writing to the trial court to show which evidence is most credible and how it all fits together, and which evidence should be rejected or given less weight. Thus, it gives a litigant a great way to re-argue the case. While trial courts take detailed notes and pay great attention to domestic trials, those that occur over multiple days—sometimes weeks apart—lose some continuity between attorneys, parties and the court. Special findings minimize this risk and also change the standard of appellate review if you do not prevail and wish to appeal. In this case, the facts and inferences of the record must support the written findings, which in turn, must support the conclusions of law and judgment. Thus, if you are entering into a significant final hearing that could result in an unacceptable loss and want to be best positioned for appeal, you should consider special findings of fact.
Are you unsure of the distinction and other benefits of special findings? Ask your trial counsel before the final hearing.
This blog was written by attorneys at Ciyou & Dixon, P.C. who handle domestic cases of all types in all Indiana trial courts and on appeal. In most complex, high-stakes litigation, it is prudent to request and then present special findings. This blog written for general educational purposes. It is not intended as legal advice or a solicitation for services. It is an advertisement.