In many civil cases, particularly divorce preliminary and final hearings, the judge receives many types of information or evidence, from who should have the house, to the division of accounts and debts, to forks and household items.
Despite the clearest testimony and diligence of judge, it is hard to identify and track all of this information for the attorneys and judges during the dynamics of a trial. This blog covers a common tool many attorneys use that aids the judge in tracking these items and ultimately in the ruling: summaries of the testimony.
A summary of the testimony is a written document, usually, no more than a page, that lists what the party just testified about that is provided. This is discretionary on the judge’s part to receive it. Typically, these are not objected to as both sides may use these. So one common summary of the testimony is a breakdown of household items and how the party who just testified thinks they should be divided. They are not evidence, but one party’s desire on testimony how items should be divided.
The key is to make sure summaries of the testimony are accurate or they are subject to objection and exclusion as they are not summaries, but additional types of de facto “evidence”. However, sometimes during testimony, a mistake or change may need to be made and it is generally permissible to make this change on the summary document as long as it is noted in the record.
Ultimately, after the trial is over the judge can use summaries to aid with his or her notes, exhibits and the transcript divide the property in a just and reasonable matter as required under the dissolution act. An important note is that summaries of the testimony may be used in other civil litigation for the same purpose.
The key “summary of the testimony” in a complex divorce is the marital balance sheet. This shows, based on all of the financial testimony, how a party would like to see the marital estate divided. Different people, including judges, litigants, and attorneys, benefit from audible and visual representations of the evidence. So with the testimony and exhibits, a summary of the entire marital estate may be useful to the court in making its division.
Finally, where the parties desire to have a parenting plan that they want the court to accept that does not follow the Indiana Parenting Time Guidelines, it is most helpful to have a calendar to reflect how the plan will work on a day by day, week by week and month by month basis. One of the biggest problems with these non-traditional plans, even where the evidence reflects they are in the children’s best interests, are ambiguities that are not specified, which then leads to litigation. Sometimes the court will adopt this as a part of its actual order.
In the final analysis, a summary of the testimony can be a powerful way to memorize the testimony (and exhibits) the judge can use without having to go back to the transcript or exhibits. It can also break down the trial case in logical chunks and help organize testimony. For instance, assets-liabilities, child support, parenting time, and the like with a summary of the testimony being a good transition between each segment of necessary evidence in the case. These are particularly valuable in long or complex trials.
This blog post was written by attorneys at Ciyou & Dixon, P.C. who handle simple to complex domestic matters throughout the state. It is not a solicitation for services or legal advice. It is an advertisement.