At the end of your family law or divorce legal proceedings, a court order will be issued. A court order must do two things: First, it must tell the parties what they need to do. Second, and perhaps more important, it should explain to the parties why the order says what it says. Not only does this make the parties more likely to follow the order, but, in the case of an appeal, the appellate court needs to know why the trial court made the decision. Remember, in an appeal, the appellate court does not “re-try” the case; instead, it reviews the trial court’s order and determines if the trial court could have properly made the decision it did given the evidence presented and the law that existed.
When a trial court fails to adequately explain its decision, the appellate court is more likely to reverse the decision. A reversal means the order under the appeal is nullified. The trial court must then schedule a new hearing and reconsider the evidence—which could include taking new evidence or excluding other evidence—which increases the cost for the parties and delays the ultimate resolution of the case. Such a situation occurred in the recent case of In re: Routhier (decided February 15, 2022).
In Routhier, the Family Division issued a child support order that “deviated” from the child support formula and denied the wife’s request for alimony. However, aside from some conclusory statements, the Family Division did not explain in its order why these decisions were being made. On appeal, the Supreme Court reversed, writing that the Family Division did not explain the reasoning for its decisions. For example, the Family Division ordered reduced child support because the parties, at the time, were living with their respective parents. However, the Family Division did not explain how that living situation impacted the economic consequences of the parties such that child support should be reduced.
The lesson from Routhier is that our divorce laws tell the trial courts the preferred outcome in many situations (i.e., a mathematical formula for calculating child support, equal decision-making rights for children, etc.). A trial court does not have to adopt the preferred outcome, but if it does not do so, it must explain its reasoning. An attorney will not only be able to explain what the preferred outcome is in a given situation and, if the client wants something other, develop arguments and evidence that allows the court to “deviate” from the preferred outcome, but also be able to adequately explain the reasoning so the order will be upheld on appeal.
To consult with an attorney on your family or divorce case, please contact us.