A common question we hear from clients and prospective appellate is “what are my chances of winning an appeal?” Unfortunately, there is no hard and fast answer to that question due to the fact-sensitive nature of the appellate process. However, there are some general rules and considerations a person can keep in mind when weighing their chances of success on appeal. In this blog, we look at the chances of winning an appeal in custody, and provide some general considerations to keep in mind when determining the likelihood of success on appeal.
In Indiana, the Court of Appeals has jurisdiction in all appeals from final judgments.1 A final judgment is one that disposes of all the claims as to all the parties.2 Aside from specific situations, the general rule is that you can only appeal what is known as a “final order.” Pursuant to Indiana law, orders for support and custody of minor children are final, for purposes of appeal. The court of appeals has the power to either affirm, vacate, modify, or reverse a trial court’s custody determination.
Next, one should consider the scope of the appellate court’s review of a custody determination in Indiana. Scope of review? what does that mean? Well, in Indiana, there is a well-established preference for granting latitude and deference to the trial judges in family law matters, which encompasses custody determinations. Thus, generally, appellate courts will only reverse a custody determination if the trial court’s decision was clearly erroneous, contrary to law, or the trial court abused that discretion. An abuse of discretion occurs when the decision is clearly against the logic and effect of the facts and circumstances of the case. There are many circumstances in which a trial court can abuse its discretion in making a custody determination. For example, a trial court was found to have abused its discretion by sua sponte modifying physical custody of the children.3 As such, in weighing your likelihood of success on appeal, it is important to remember the scope of review involved with custody determinations.
Another important thing to consider when weighing your likelihood of success on appeal is that your argument on appeal is “limited to the record.” That is, all evidence and testimony presented in the case at the trial court level. Any evidence or facts that are not contained in the record are off-limits in the appeal. Furthermore, the Court of Appeals can only consider the facts and circumstances as they existed during the hearing, not issues that have arisen since. Thus, remember that in order to use certain evidence on appeal, it must be in the record.
Appeals are complex matters, and this area of law is extremely technical. The above information is general in nature, and know that there are exceptions to almost every rule. Obtaining skilled counsel is key to navigating the complex waters of appeals. This blog post was written by attorneys at Ciyou & Dixon, P.C. who handle all types of appeals, be it civil or criminal, throughout Indiana. This blog is intended for general educational purposes only. It is not intended as legal advice or a solicitation for services. It is an advertisement.