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Domestic Law Appeals

Domestic Law Appeals: Standard of Review and Factual Questions Versus Legal Ones

All final orders of a Indiana trial courts are appealable by right, meaning that the Court of Appeals must review the merits of your appeal and issues a Decision thereon.1 The Supreme Court (of Indiana or the United States) has discretionary review of most types of cases (there are some that the Supreme Court must review, but generally those do not involve domestic cases), and thus the review by the Supreme Court of a Court of Appeals opinion is by permission of the Supreme Court.2

When the Court of Appeals reviews a case, the Court must review 1) only evidence and testimony that was placed on the record in the trial court, and do so 2) by using a specific standard.

Many people may be confused by 1), that the Court of Appeals, as the Court may not consider anything outside of the trial court record. There is often evidence that could change the trial court’s order if it had been put on the record, but the Court of Appeals cannot consider this, truth or not.

Especially in domestic cases, interactions and interrelations between the parties continues after the trial court has made its order and may supplement the evidence the trial court had on the record for review and could paint the scenario in a different light; however, and again, the Court of Appeals cannot consider this evidence.

The reason behind this is that the Court of Appeals reviews the trial court’s order under a specific standard, either “abuse of discretion” or “clear error” and thus must look at the evidence just as the trial court did in order to determine if the trial court made the wrong order.3

In domestic cases the trial court can enter a final order that just states what the court is ordering for the parties; this is called a general judgment. The trial court can also issue Special Findings.4 Special Findings are essentially statements of fact that the trial court has determined are fact after reviewing all evidence and its inferences; and the purpose is to provide the theory under which the trial court made its judgment.

The standard of review by the Court of Appeals is different for either type of Order. Under a general judgment standard, where there are no Special Findings, the Court of Appeals may affirm the trial court’s Order under any theory supported by the evidence.5 Where there are Special Findings, the Court of Appeals must 1) determine if the evidence (facts and inferences of the record) supports the findings, and 2) if the findings support the judgment.6

It is very important to know the standard of review and what evidence the Court of Appeals can look at upon making its judgment, to more fully understand if your appeal has strength and is likely to uphold or overturn the trial court’s Order. The Court of Appeals will not reweigh the evidence, but rather ensure that the judgment is consistent with the evidence presented at the trial court.

The cases that are most likely to prevail on appeal are those involving errors made by the trial court in application of the law.

This is most exemplified by a recent Court of Appeals opinion, Davis v. Davis, which stated“[t]here is certainly evidence in this case that would support Father’s petition for modification of child custody, and if we were in the shoes of the trial court, we might reach the opposite result. But that is not our standard of review.”7 The Court of Appeals upheld the trial court’s order because the Court of Appeals, on review, gives deference to the trial court, and the trial court made specific findings relating to the conclusions and judgment thereon.

We hope that this blog post has been helpful for you in understanding the approach and review by the Court of Appeals in domestic cases (other civil and criminal cases) should an appeal of the trial court’s Order be necessary. This will make you a more sophisticated legal consumer, and help your attorney help you to your legal objectives. Ciyou & Dixon, P.C. practices throughout the state of Indiana. This blog post was written by attorney, Lori Schmeltzer.


  1. Indiana Rules of Appellate Procedure, Rule 5(A)
  2. Indiana Rules of Appellate Procedure, Rule 4(A)(2)
  3. Cross v. Cross, 891 N.E.2d 635, 641 (Ind.Ct.App.2008).
  4. Indiana Trial Rule 52(A)
  5. In re the Paternity of M.G.S., 756 N.E.2d 990, 996 (Ind.Ct.App.2001)
  6. Fulp v. Gillialand, 972 N.E.2d 955 (Ind.Ct.App.2012)
  7. Davis v. Davis, 973 N.E.2d 109 (Ind.Ct.App.2012) (emphasis added).
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Ciyou & Dixon, P.C., is a law firm located in Indianapolis, Indiana. We serve clients in six core practice areas: family lawappellate practicefirearms lawgeneral practicepersonal injury and criminal law.

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Based in Indianapolis and founded in 1995, Ciyou & Dixon, P.C. is a niche law firm focused on successfully dealing with the complexities of divorce, high-conflict child custody and family law. Known for their ability to solve extremely complex situations with high quality work and responsiveness, Ciyou & Dixon will guide you every step of the way. The family law attorneys at Ciyou & Dixon, P.C. will help you precisely identify your objectives and the means to reach your desired result. In addition, this practice focus is augmented by the firm's other three core areas, namely appellate advocacy, civil practice, and firearms law. Life is uncertain. Be certain of your counselSM.

Indianapolis Divorce Attorneys, Ciyou & Dixon, P.C. of Indianapolis, Indiana, offers legal services for Indianapolis, Zionsville, Noblesville, Carmel, Avon, Anderson, Danville, Greenwood, Brownsburg, Geist, Fortville, McCordsville, Muncie, Greenfield, Westfield, Fort Wayne, Fishers, Bloomington, Lafayette, Marion County, Hamilton County, Hendricks County, Allen County, Delaware County, Morgan County, Hendricks County, Boone County, Vigo County, Johnson County, Hancock County, and Tippecanoe County, Indiana.