This appeal arises out of a decree of divorce and a subsequent modification of the divorce decree entered by the Elkhart Circuit Court. Plaintiff-appellant filed an action for divorce on June 11, 1969, against her husband, the appellee herein, and on December 5, 1969, the court entered a divorce decree. In the decree the court granted custody of the parties' two minor children to the defendant, and visitation rights were granted to the plaintiff. The portions of the decrees pertinent to the custody of the children, and to visitation rights, read as follows:
Thereafter, on June 26, 1970, the plaintiff filed a Petition for Modification of Divorce Decree in Regard to Visitation Rights. After hearing evidence on this petition, the court entered the following order:
Subsequent to entry of the above order the plaintiff filed a Motion to Correct Errors, which was overruled on September 4, 1970, and thereupon an appeal was taken to this court.
Before discussing the merits of appellant's appeal, it should first be pointed out that counsel for appellee failed to file an answer brief in this appeal, and therefore it is only incumbent upon appellant to make a prima facie showing of reversible error in order to entitle her to a reversal of the trial court's decision. Berry et al. v. The Town of Fowler (1960), 240 Ind. 443, 166 N.E.2d 333; Kuykendall v. Co. Comm. (1968), 142 Ind.App. 363, 234 N.E.2d 860;
The appellant's Motion to Correct Errors sets out four specifications of error. However, in view of the result we have reached, we find it necessary only to discuss No. 3:
It appears from the record and from appellant's uncontradicted statement of facts that the only evidence supporting the trial court's decision was the testimony of the appellant and that of the appellant's present husband's ex-wife.
Considering first the relevant portions of the appellant's testimony, the following question and answer were admitted in evidence:
In her brief, appellant contends that at a hearing upon the modification of a divorce decree, evidence of the conduct of the parties prior to the entry of the decree is not admissible in evidence, and that such evidence should be limited to the present living conditions and conduct of the parties concerning such visitation. We must agree with the appellant's argument. It is a well settled rule of law that the modification hearing cannot be used to retry the issues settled by the divorce decree. This rule was applied in Scott v. Kell (1956), 127 Ind.App. 472, 479, 134 N.E.2d 828, in the following language:
Accordingly, testimony regarding the appellant's conduct prior to the original divorce decree was inadmissible in the modification hearing, and does not, therefore, support the trial court's decision.
The testimony of the appellant's present husband's ex-wife (referred to hereafter as Doris Pawling) revealed that during her marriage to Mr. Pawling she had consented to engage in acts of oral sexual intercourse with her husband, who, according to the witness, could not be otherwise sexually satisfied. The appellant suggests that this testimony could have been excluded as irrelevant, however, the relevancy of Doris Pawling's testimony is not an issue here for the reason that the appellant failed to make such an objection at trial. This testimony, therefore, was properly admitted into evidence and we are thus confronted with the question of whether or not it constitutes sufficient evidence to sustain the trial court's decision to modify the divorce decree by restricting the appellant's
While this appeal is concerned with the modification of visitation rights and not with a change in the permanent custody of the children, it has been held that the same rule is applicable to both types of cases. Renard v. Renard (1956), 126 Ind.App. 245, 132 N.E.2d 278. The rule to which we refer has been consistently followed by the courts of this state, and was followed in Adams v. Purtlebaugh (1951), 230 Ind. 269, 274, 102 N.E.2d 499, wherein it was stated:
This rule was recently reaffirmed by our Supreme Court in Huston v. Huston (1971), 256 Ind. 110, 267 N.E.2d 170, 171, in the following language:
In Huston, supra, p. 171, the court further stated:
We are of the opinion that, as a matter of law, appellee did fail to prove in the trial court a substantial and material change in conditions affecting the welfare of the children in order to justify a change of visitation rights, therefore, the decision of the trial court was an abuse of discretion. While appellee was successful in proving that certain difficulties existed in the sexual relations of appellant's present husband's former marriage, there was no proof that such difficulties existed in the present marriage which could possibly affect the welfare of the children during periods of visitation. To the contrary, it was testified that sexual relations in the present marriage were perfectly normal. It should further be pointed out that appellee, himself, testified that the appellant had always been a good mother to the children.
For the foregoing reasons, we must find that the trial court's decision was not supported by sufficient evidence, and must, therefore, be reversed.
Sullivan, P.J., and Lowdermilk, J., concur; Buchanan, J., dissents with opinion.
I respectfully dissent from the majority opinion on the following grounds:
The standard used by the majority opinion is vague and avoids the use of the words "abuse of judicial discretion." The majority opinion says: "We are of the opinion that, as a matter of law, appellee did fail to prove in the trial court a substantial and material change in conditions affecting the welfare of the children in order to justify a change of visitation rights." The court then went on to reverse the trial court's decision because it was "not supported by sufficient evidence." This phrase became a convenient fulcrum on which to weigh the evidence.
Not having applied the tried and true doctrine of abuse of judicial discretion, it could neither apply that standard nor define what constitutes judicial discretion. It appears to me that the application of this standard and the definition thereof are vital to any decision in this case.
The leading case as to what constitutes abuse of discretion, and the one most often cited, is McFarlan v. Fowler Bank City Trust Co. (1938), 214 Ind. 10, 12 N.E.2d 752, where the Indiana Supreme Court defines what constitutes an abuse of judicial discretion:
This definition is followed and applied with approval in Adams v. Adams (1946), 117 Ind.App. 335, 69 N.E.2d 632, and in Dunbar v. Dunbar (1969), 145 Ind.App. 479, 251 N.E.2d 468.
Therefore, in reviewing the judicial discretion of the trial court, this court should examine and consider all of the evidence disclosed by the record which was before the trial court in making its decision, even if it requires a reluctant journey into the record on our part. Renard v. Renard, supra; Adams v. Adams, supra.
DISCUSSION OF GROUND TWO — An examination of the record clearly reveals that there was more than adequate evidence before the trial court to logically support its ruling.
The majority opinion is bottomed on its statement of the sole question for determination as being "whether or not it [certain evidence of oral sexual intercourse] constitutes sufficient evidence to sustain the trial court's decision to modify the divorce decree by restricting the appellant's visitation and temporary custody rights to her sister's home." Thus the majority only determined whether there was insufficient evidence by considering this sole piece of evidence. Nothing could be more in error.
In exercising its judgment, the trial court had before it from the pleadings, testimony, and other evidence in the case substantial logical reasons for its decision.
Two uncontraverted salient facts before the court were that shortly after the divorce between the plaintiff and the defendant in December of 1969, the plaintiff (having previously voluntarily given custody of the two children to the defendant) permanently left the state of Indiana to make her residence in Ohio; secondly, she ultimately married one Forrest Pawling and resided with him in the state of Ohio. Mr. Pawling's
Plaintiff states in her Petition to Modify and so testified that she wished to take Timothy (the younger son, age ten) to her home in Ohio for a vacation period. Mr. Pawling would presumably be present in his own home, and his good character was questioned by two witnesses. From the record it would appear visitations in Ohio would be solely for the convenience and benefit of the plaintiff.
From the testimony of the four persons who testified (the plaintiff, the defendant, Mrs. Doris Pawling, and Larry Dufour), it appears there is a basis for believing that the plaintiff and Mr. Pawling were living in adultery at the time of her divorce and prior to the time of her remarriage; that Mr. Pawling gave up his Boy Scout work and that his whole personality changed, including the change in sex habits referred to in the majority opinion; that he was in a very emotional state when he visited the former Mrs. Pawling after the divorce between the plaintiff and the defendant; and that he displayed little interest in his own grandchildren.
The majority opinion indicates that the circumstance of the plaintiff going with Mr. Pawling should not be considered by the court because it involved conduct prior to the time of the divorce, and cites in support thereof Scott v. Kell (1956), 127 Ind.App. 472, 134 N.E.2d 828. This case is not applicable
The trial court properly had in mind that "the welfare of the child is the paramount consideration." Maxwell v. Maxwell (1956), 127 Ind.App. 266, 138 N.E.2d 921. This accounts for its concern with the character and conduct of Mr. Pawling.
Another proper basis for the court's decision was evidence that the plaintiff and her new husband, Mr. Pawling, occupied a small apartment in Ohio with no separate bedroom for Timothy, who would be obliged to sleep on a studio couch in the living room. Also, there was some evidence of disinterest on the part part of the plaintiff in visiting her children when the opportunity was available. Further, her older son had strong feelings about his mother living in adultery and was determined to have nothing further to do with her.
Other testimony indicated that the home of the plaintiff's sister was a suitable place for visitation by the plaintiff with Timothy, whether for short periods of time or on an overnight basis.
There is, then, an abundance of evidence, only part of which is in conflict, from which the trial court could narrow the visitation rights of plaintiff in the manner it deemed to be in the best interests of Timothy Dufour.
Over and over again, almost ad nauseam, appellate courts recite the rule that the trial judge is in a position to see the parties and to observe their conduct, manner and demeanor, and his decision ought not to be reversed unless an abuse of discretion has been shown. Otherwise it is conclusive. Cornwell v. Cornwell (1940), 108 Ind.App. 350, 29 N.E.2d 317;
This case suffers from the failure of the appellee to file a brief and possibly from the unusual character of some of the evidence, all of which tends to obscure the rational basis for the court's judgment. As near as can be determined from this record, the trial court does not appear to have committed an error of judgment, much less entered a judgment "clearly against the logic and effect of the facts and circumstances before the court, or the reasonable, probable, and actual deductions to be drawn therefrom."
In summarizing the evidence prior to making his decision, the trial judge said, in part:
The majority quite properly utter the principle that it is only incumbent upon an appellant to make a prima facie showing of reversible error in order to be entitled to a reversal of the trial court's decision. This rule, however, becomes an exercise in futility for litigants unless its Draconian effect is softened by a policy of determining appeals on their merits wherever possible. This is particularly true where the question of abuse of judicial discretion by a trial court is at issue.
The effect of the majority opinion is to emasculate the traditional concept of what constitutes abuse of discretion and the principle that the welfare of the child is of paramount importance in determining custody and visitation rights.
The decision of the trial court should have been affirmed.
NOTE. — Reported in 273 N.E.2d 102.