May 28, 2013 § Leave a comment
I’ve posted here before about the inadequate proof that most attorneys offer when presenting an uncontested divorce or child custody case.
I’m not talking here about corroboration and substantial evidence of the grounds in a divorce case. I’m talking about addressing all of the applicable factors that pertain to your particular case. For instance … After establishing that your client is entitled to a divorce, he says he wants the house and all the equity. Is that good enough? Or your client testifies that she wants custody and has had the child with her for the past 18 months. Is that all you need?
The answer in both scenarios is “No.” You need to give the judge enough evidence to enable findings on all of the Ferguson factors for the judge to award that equity, and you need to address the Albright factors for the judge to make sufficient findings to award custody. And so on with all of the type cases that involve factors.
That is what the MSSC held in Lee v. Lee, 78 So.3d 326 (Miss. 2012).
I usually sign will sign the judgment based on a modicum of proof. If, however, a proper post-trial motion is filed, I will set aside that part of the judgment that is not supported with findings on the applicable factors as required by case law. As the court said in Lee, at 329:
¶13. By failing to appear at the hearing, [the appellant] forfeited his right to present evidence and prosecute his divorce complaint. But he did not forfeit the right to challenge the sufficiency of the evidence or the judgment. And whether absent or present at the trial, the appropriate time to challenge a judgment is after it has been entered. [Appellant] did so in his Rule 59 motion and at the hearing following it. The fact that [he] failed to attend the divorce trial does not relieve the chancellor of his duty to base his decision on the evidence, regardless of by whom presented, nor did it nullify this Court’s mandate in Ferguson.
It’s so simple to take the few extra minutes to put on the evidence that will support the required findings. Then, you incorporate them into your judgment and the judge will gladly sign it. Only, don’t expect the judge to sign it if she did not hear testimony on point.
If your judgment has the necessary findings, it should withstand any post-trial attack based on that reason. Your client will appreciate that. After all, that’s what you were paid to do.