Understanding the Role of the Indiana Court of Appeals in Your Case

Understanding the Role of the Indiana Court of Appeals in Your Case

Either party may appeal all or part of a decision in a family law case. Many appellants, or those who initiate an appeal, however, become frustrated with the process, as they do not fully understand the role of the Indiana Court of Appeals in their case. This blog explains the difference between a divorce, or trial, court and the court of appeals and what each court’s role in their case is.  

Family law courts are county level courts authorized to hear and make determinations on family law issues such as divorce, child custody, parenting time, support, and paternity. These courts are oftentimes referred to as trial courts, as they allow each of the parties to present evidence and call witnesses at a trial or hearing, and then make a decision based on the evidence presented. Trial courts may also issue rulings on matters of law, such as what evidence should be admitted or excluded, whether a parties objection to a question asked of a witness should be sustained or overruled, and how the law applies to the facts of the case. When a party disagrees with a decision made by the trial court, they may appeal the decision by asking the Indiana Court of Appeals to affirm (uphold or agree with) or reverse the trial court’s decision, or remand the case back to the trial court for further proceedings (Court of Appeals of Indiana).  

Courts of appeal, or appellate courts, play an entirely different role in a case. First, they do not allow any new evidence to be submitted or hear any witness testimony (Court of Appeals of Indiana). An appeal is not a “re-do” of a trial or hearing. It is a process wherein a three judge panel decides whether the trial court made some error in law, such as misapplying a statute or applying the wrong statute. This could mean allowing evidence to be presented that should have been excluded, overruling an objection when it should have been sustained, or applying the law to the facts of the case incorrectly. The court makes this decision by reviewing the pleadings and evidence submitted to the trial court, the transcript of the trial or hearing, and the briefs written and submitted by each party.  

Briefs are legal arguments describing why the trial court’s decision was correct or incorrect, depending on which side is writing the brief. The party who files the appeal, or the appellant, writes and submits his or her brief first. The brief should contain a written account of the facts of the case and describe the errors made in the trial court. It must also cite statutes, rules, or case law supporting any arguments made. So, simply stating that an objection to a question asked of a witness should have been sustained, yet it was overruled, is not enough. The brief must point to a rule of evidence, a statute, or case law that says the objection should have been sustained. In some cases, oral arguments may be heard. Oral arguments allow the parties each 20 to 30 minutes to supplement their brief and answer questions from the panel of judges (Indiana Court Records). After oral arguments are heard, the court will then make a decision and issue a written opinion.  

When making a decision, the court does not reweigh evidence or judge the credibility of witnesses1. It assumes that, because of the face-to-face interaction, the trial court is in the best position to judge the credibility and character of witnesses. This means, for example, that if you believe one or more of the other parties’ witnesses lied during their testimony, and that is the basis for your appeal, you will very likely be disappointed in the outcome. Also, unlike the trial court, that does not favor one party or another and must remain impartial, the appellate court construes the evidence in the light most favorable to the trial court’s judgement2. It is the job of the court of appeals simply to determine if the trial court’s decision is clearly erroneous and not supported by the evidence when applying any theory of law. Basically then, its role is to ensure that you got a fair trial, and to correct the situation if you did not.  

This blog was written by attorneys at Ciyou & Associates, P.C. It is for general educational purposes. The blog is not intended to be relied upon for any legal matter or issue. The blog is not legal advice. This is an advertisement. 

  1. (Perkinson v. Perkinson, 989 N.E.2d 758, 761 (Ind. 2013)) 
  2. (Hughes v. City of Gary, 741 N.E.2d 1168, 1172 (Ind. 2001))



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