Understanding the Scope of Appellate Practice in Indiana Family Law Cases

A party who disagrees with a final decision in a family law case may appeal that decision to the Indiana Court of Appeals. An unfavorable decision can cause a great deal of stress and sometimes even be traumatic for the party who did not get the outcome they expected. Appealing the trial court’s decision is often a parties first instinct, however pursuing an appeal in a family law case is not always a good idea. Understanding the scope of appellate practice in Indiana family law cases can help a party decide if an appeal is worth pursuing. This blog discusses the scope of appellate practice in family law cases and how to decide if your case falls within the scope, making it worth pursing an appeal.  

The court of appeals does not conduct a new trial nor does it hear any new evidence. It reviews the transcript of the hearings the appellant (the person initiating the appeal) requested from the trial court, as well as any documentary evidence that was admitted to the trial court and determines if there were any errors that warrant a reversal of the trial court’s decision. Trial courts are given a great amount of discretionary latitude and their orders are presumed to be correct. (Towne & Terrace Corp. v. City of Indianapolis, 156 N.E.3d 703 (Ind. Ct. App. 2020). The court will use a specific a standard of review to determine whether or not to reverse the trial court's decision. 

This standard is based upon the issue(s) and most cases are reviewed for abuse of discretion. An abuse of discretion occurs “when the trial court's decision contradicts the logic and effect of the facts and circumstances before the court.” (Sparks v. Sparks, No. 22A-DC-495 (Ind. App. Aug. 22, 2022)). When reviewing a case for abuse of discretion, the appellate court will consider only the evidence most favorable to the trial court's judgment. This means that evidence favorable to the appellant will not be considered, as the appellate court assumes that the trial court judge’s decision is correct and will only look for evidence to support that decision. 

When the trial court does not provide special findings (generally called findings of fact and conclusions of law), the decision of a trial court is reviewed under a general judgment standard and will be affirmed if it is based upon any legal theory consistent with the evidence (Wilson v. Myers, No. 71A03-1204-DR-153 (Ind. App. Dec. 12, 2012)). It is important to note that this standard requires that the decision be based on any legal theory, not the best legal theory. The court will not reweigh the evidence or reassessing witness credibility under either standard of review.

Appellate practice in Indiana family law cases then is limited to proving that the facts admitted into evidence in the trial court do not support the conclusion of the trial judge or that, given the facts, there is no legal theory upon which the court’s decision could be based. This standard will not apply to many family law cases, and a party considering an appeal should consult with a family law appellate attorney to determine if an appeal is the best course of action in their case and what the chances are of winning should they decide to pursue an appeal.

This is not to say that family law appeals cannot be won, and an experienced appellate attorney can help reframe the issues and pinpoint any errors to give you the best chance of obtaining a favorable outcome. 

If you are considering filing an appeal, or have already begun the process, the experienced attorneys at Ciyou & Associates, P.C. can help. 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. 


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