In a recent Tennessee divorce case, Turman v. Turman, Tenn. Ct. App. (2015), the court attempted to review a contested dissolution of marriage and property division matter.
The trial court had referred the case to a Special Master in order to help with some of the contested issues. However, rather than the trial court instructing the Special Master as to what issues would be decided, it delegated this to the parties. According to the Court of Appeals, this was an unusual occurrence.
The Special Master limited her consideration to the valuation of the property involved but did not include findings of fact regarding the nature of the underlying property. Therefore, it was unclear which property was considered to be separate or marital. The trial court then stated that it adopted the Special Master’s findings in reaching its decision, but it did not include findings of fact as to why it reached this decision. There was also no transcript from the Special Master’s hearings included in the evidentiary record on appeal.
In its final decision, even after an initial appeal on behalf of the wife, the trial court failed to render any specific written findings of the nature of the various pieces of property as well. Tennessee law states that the trial court “shall find the facts specially and state separately its conclusions of law and direct the entry of the appropriate judgment.”
The purpose of this requirement, rather than serving as a mere technicality, is to facilitate the ability of appellate courts to review decisions and reach a resolution quickly. It isn’t difficult to discern the necessity of basic facts of the case considering why decisions were reached in the manner that they were. Without those key elements, review on appeal becomes nearly impossible. There were specific legal questions raised on appeal that the trial court had stated it would address, but it never did. With an insufficient basis to refer to, the appellate court could not make a determination of whether the issue had even been addressed.
The court went on to state that there were certain circumstances under which appellate courts could carry out a review without the necessary required findings of fact, but that such review could only occur in a situation where the legal issue was clear from the record, which was not the case here.
The only solution in cases such as this one, when there was an insufficient factual basis to discern why the trial court ruled in the way that it did, was to remand the case for a rehearing and entry of judgment consistent with the necessary required information. Unfortunately, this meant that the final disposition of the case would be further pushed out, but the lack of evidence necessitated the remand.
If you have a family law matter in Tennessee, contact the Nashville family law attorneys at Martin Heller Potempa & Sheppard, PLLC. Our legal team can guide you through the process of dissolution with compassion and competence, or assist you in any other family law matter. For an initial consultation, contact one of our attorneys today through this website, or by calling (615) 800-7096.