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What Are Special Findings

Divorce cases take up most of the time on Indiana’s trial court’s calendars.  They are messy and sometimes take up multiple days of trial court time (i.e., two hours here, a half day there, and an hour to wrap up, even without the traditional opening and closing).  The reason for this is there is no real way for a judge or attorneys to gauge how long divorce hearing will take.

A given question may open up new assets or liabilities or the perception of parties or witnesses may be stilted taking even more time to sort out by cross-examination, additional questions, or witnesses and documentary evidence.

In many respects, each piece of testimony or exhibit is like a puzzle piece.  For this reason, your attorney may request special findings.  This is one of two ways a trial court may decide a case.  The first is to rule from his or her notes and impressions of testimony and documents after the conclusion of the case.

In simpler cases, this is often the way the case is decided.  The Court simply decides-- based on what it heard and received in the form of exhibits--how to award custody and parenting time and divide the marital estate based on the law it must follow.  However, in cases with complex factors, such as one with lots of assets and debts or significant dispute about custody, an attorney may request special findings of fact.1

These are a detailed list of proposed facts a party wants the trial court to rely on and which ones it proposes it reject.  So, for instance, if there is an issue about a disabled spouse and need for support, this allows each attorney to lay out the facts as it believes the trial court should find and order under the law.

With this example, the trial court would accept one expert’s testimony about disability and reject another spouse’s expert.  Ultimately, special findings lay out a given party’s legal position of what the evidence shows and what it does not.  Where properly drafted, special findings can assemble evidence in ways a trial court may not otherwise see.  This does not mean a trial court will follow the proposals, but does provide a litigant with a good way to show the court how he or she views the case.

Most often a trial court uses parts of each party’s proposed findings (or proposed order) to set forth why it ordered as it did.  This also aids in making a better fashioned appeal if the case proceeds beyond the trial court level.   In other words, it provides the appellate court with the theory upon which the trial court decided the case to ensure it correctly applied the law.

This blog post was written by attorneys at Ciyou & Dixon, P.C., attorneys serving divorcing parents throughout the State of Indiana.

  1. Ind. Trial Rule 52(A).
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