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The Four Things You Should Know About Special “Findings” in Child Custody Disputes

In child custody ligation, where one parent is seeking primary physical or legal custody over the parent, the “why” the trial court ruled as it did is often important to the parties to help better understand and accept the decision. This rationale is set out in cases with special findings. This is also considered by Indiana’s appellate courts on appeal, if either party requested the trial court to make special findings.

The concept is pretty straight forward. A general judgment allows a trial court to judge the credibility of the witnesses and documentary evidence by all of the verbal and non-verbal testimony and decide what arrangement is in the children’s best interests. With this, it can grant or deny a request to modify custody. We as a society have selected this method and put our trust in elected judges and their commissioners and magistrates to do so. Indiana’s appellate courts defer to trial courts unless the overall evidence leaves it with a firm conviction a mistake has been made. However, and again, with a general judgment, specific reasons for the decision or law relied upon are not required.

Sometimes trial courts err. Every professional makes imprudent judgment calls. This is the reason a party may request special findings. In the recent Maddux v. Maddux decided by the Indiana Court of Appeals, the record could allow the trial court to deny father’s request to modify custody, which it did. However, special findings were requested and issued. On appeal, the Indiana Court of Appeals held the findings did “not support the trial court’s determination concerning best interests. The trial court clearly erred . . . [and] we reverse the denial of Father’s petition for custody modification and remand for entry of judgment in his favor . . .”1

Ultimately, this case reflects four important points in Indiana law. First, party may learn why the court ruled as it did and under what legal standards if special findings are requested. Second, a party may increase the level of appellate review in their case by requesting special findings. Third, custody modification petitions may be granted with a substantial change in circumstances if this is in the child’s best interests. Fourth, parties have a right to an appeal as a matter of right to the Indiana Court of Appeals and all lawyers, judges, and citizens have the right to be heard and due process of law, with special findings being an additional layer of theory of the case and level of review if requested.

This blog post was written by attorneys at Ciyou & Dixon, P.C. for general educational purposes. It is not intended as specific legal advice or a solicitation for representation. Ciyou & Dixon, P.C. attorney practice domestic law across the State of Indiana.

  1. Maddux v. Maddux, 40 N.E.3d 971 (2015)

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