The Court of Appeals of Georgia recently heard a case which emphasizes the importance of having a transcript for the Court to refer to on appeal in family law cases. Johnson v. Ware, A11A1559 (2012). In that case, the trial court consolidated two actions concerning custody and visitation of the children, one action filed by each party. In one action (the “Ware Action”), the mother sought a modification of the father’s visitation. In the other action (the “Johnson Action”), the father sought primary physical custody of the children. The cases were tried together by agreement of the parties. Id. at 2. After the trial (in which there was no transcript takedown), the trial court held that the mother should remain the primary physical custodian and included a Parenting Plan, which specifically outlined visitation. Id. at 3.
The father appealed, arguing that the trial court erred in modifying custodial rights he was given under the parties’ settlement agreement and divorce decree. Id. at 4. According to the Court of Appeals, however, he could not show reversible error because neither the settlement agreement nor the divorce decree was in the record on appeal. Id. In addition, there was no transcript so there was no evidence regarding how that issue was treated at trial. Id. at 5. The Court of Appeals held: “The burden is on the party alleging error to show it affirmatively by the record. When the burden is not met, the judgment complained of is assumed to be correct and must be affirmed.” Id. at 5. The Court, therefore, affirmed the trial court’s decision. The father also asserted that the trial court erred by refusing to hear all the evidence he offered at trial. Id. However, again, without a transcript, the father was unable to prove this assertion and the trial court’s order was affirmed. Id. at 6.
This case shows the importance of having the court reporter takedown the proceedings. The expense involved is likely worth it as it is nearly impossible to be successful on appeal without having evidence of what happened at the trial court level to which the Court of Appeals of Georgia or Supreme Court of Georgia can refer.