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COA orders trial court to comply with Trial Rule 59 in custody case

March 3, 2017

A Putnam Superior Court must reconsider a motion to correct error on a child custody modification motion, the Indiana Court of Appeals held Friday, because the trial court did not provide a reason for granting the motion to correct.

After Caleb and Tammy Riggen’s marriage was dissolved in 2014, Tammy Riggen was given physical custody of their child. However, Caleb Riggen moved to modify custody, and after the Putnam Superior Court heard testimony from the child’s guardian ad litem, the court granted his petition in February 2016.

Tammy Riggen moved to correct error soon after, alleging that the court had erred in making its findings and contending that there was insufficient evidence to support the modification order. After the GAL filed a supplemental report, the trial court granted Tammy Riggen’s motion to correct error, but did so without providing a reason in its order.

On appeal in Caleb Riggen v. Tammy Riggen, 67A04-1606-DR-1312, Caleb Riggen held that the Putnam Superior Court abused its discretion in granting his ex-wife’s motion when it “failed to articulate any reasons whatsoever for why it granted Mother’s motion.” The Indiana Court of Appeals agreed, with Judge L. Mark Bailey writing in a Friday opinion that under Trial Rule 59(J), a court “shall specify the general reasons” for its decision to grant relief on a motion to correct error.

“Were this case before us with an appellee’s brief, we might conclude that the error was harmless,” Bailey wrote with a reference to the fact that Tammy Riggen did not file a brief. “However, father has directed us to prima facie error. Under these circumstances, we are constrained in our review and therefore vacate the trial court’s order granting Mother’s motion to correct error.”

On remand, the appellate panel instructed the trial court to comply with Trial Rule 59 when considering the motion to correct error.

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