Sometimes courts get it wrong. If you’re unhappy with the outcome of a divorce case, you have the legal right to file an appeal. As California’s First District Court of Appeals recently explained in In re Marriage of Shimpi and Sonawane, however, a party filing an appeal bears the burden of providing a detailed record of the proceedings in order to show where the lower court made an error.
Husband and Wife were married in January 2003, and Wife gave birth to their only child 11 months later. Wife filed for divorce in October 2008. In the litigation that followed, the spouses disputed the date on which they separated. Wife claimed that the separation date was Aug. 1, 2008, while Husband maintained that the separation actually happened in December 2006. Husband submitted a number of e-mail exchanges between the two spouses and family members, which the First District later said “reflect the demise of the parties’ relationship,” in support of his claim.
After a January 2013 hearing, however, a trial court ordered that the marriage be dissolved and set the separation date at Aug. 1, 2008, per Wife’s request. It also ordered Husband to pay nearly $550 in temporary spousal support and nearly $1,100 in child support. The spouses later agreed to a settlement during a mandatory conference.
Husband eventually appealed the decision, claiming that the trial court erred in determining the separation date and awarding spousal support. He also claimed that the judge was overly “coercive” in conducting the settlement conference.
But the appeals court found Husband failed to present enough evidence in support of his claims. “[Husband] has failed to provide this court with sufficient record of the proceedings below,” the Court wrote. “This failure dooms his appeal.”
As the First District court explained, a trial court’s decision is generally presumed to be correct on appeal. This means that the person appealing the decision has to provide an adequate record showing where the trial court erred. “Where the appellant fails to provide an adequate record of the challenged proceedings, we must presume that the appealed judgment or order is correct and, on that basis, affirm,” the Court noted.
Here, the First District said there was no transcript of the the trial court’s January 2013 hearing. Accordingly, there was not a complete record of the evidence, according to the Court, and no documentation to show the rationale for the judge’s ruling. Moreover, Husband didn’t provide enough information about the settlement conference for the court to determine whether the judge acted improperly. As a result, the Court affirmed the trial court’s decision.
Trials, and especially appeals, are very costly, both financially and emotionally. This case is a good example of how divorcing spouses could have used an alternative process such as Collaborative divorce or mediation to settle these issues, probably in a few months rather than a few years. Disputes over issues such as date of separation and support can usually be easily resolved by looking at the real issues rather than abstractions such as date of separation. Couples can choose to disregard the date of separation and divide their assets and debts according to the needs and interests of each, as well as their own sense of fairness and concern for an outcome that leaves each as whole as possible. Support can be addressed by considering the income available and the reasonable expenses of each as well as the understanding that each needs to use their best efforts to become self-supporting.
It may not be possible in all circumstances, but any couple considering divorce, where each spouse is willing and able to try and consider the needs and interests of the other and of their children, can usually avoid costly, protracted, and acrimonious litigation with alternatives such as mediation and collaborative divorce. With offices throughout the region, Bay Area divorce lawyer Lorna Jaynes provides innovative legal tools to resolve family law disputes.
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