You have just finished a long bench trial in your divorce and you do not feel that the trial court was correct in its division of your assets and liabilities. In fact, you feel that the judge was completely wrong and you got the short end of the stick. So, you wonder what you can do about it. You absolutely can appeal, but you have a short window frame in order to do so and it is imperative you take certain steps in appealing.
The 7th District Court of Appeals in Amarillo makes this fact abundantly clear in Kenneth Dale Rodgers, Appellant vs. Mary Elaine Rodgers, Appellee in determining whether or not (a) “the trial court abused its discretion in the division of the property” which (b) “materially affected a just and right division of the marital estate.” In that case, the husband was very unhappy with the property division and he appealed. However, the husband failed to request findings of fact and conclusions of law from the trial court within the required amount of time. Therefore, the appellate court had no idea what the basis of the trial court’s ruling was and was forced to go along with it. This is because, as the Court of Appeals held, you must request findings of fact and conclusions of law from the trial court and the trial court must then file those within a certain period of time. This allows the Court of Appeals to determine why the trial court held what it held. The record sometimes helps, but findings of fact and conclusions of law are obviously more solid and preferred by the appellate courts.
When you have a bench trial (trial before judge, not jury), Texas Rules of Civil Procedure Rules 296 and 297 mandate that you must file your request for findings of fact and conclusions of law from the trial court “within twenty days after the judgment is signed” and then the trial court must “file its findings of fact and conclusions of law within twenty days after a timely request has been made.” If you fail to do this, then “the trial court is presumed to have made all findings of fact necessary to support its judgment, and it must be affirmed on any legal theory that is supported by the evidence.” Rodgers v. Rodgers.
The moral of the story—you need an attorney at all times. There are specific deadlines that must be met when preparing to appeal a trial court’s decision. In addition to the findings of fact and conclusions of law, you also must have your appeal on file by a certain date. There are too many deadlines to delay, contact an attorney as soon as your divorce is finalized and if there is any doubt in your mind regarding the trial court’s order.