Before any hearing, we discuss with our clients whether they would like to have the case reported. Having a case reported means there is a court reporter taking down what is said during the hearing. We explain that it costs more money and in some counties, more preparation since we will have to schedule the court reporter. Inevitably our clients ask, "Do I need it?". Your matter can certainly proceed without a court reporter. But if the client is unhappy with the result, it is often difficult to get an appellate court to overturn a trial court's ruling without an accurate record of the hearing.
The recent case of Blue v. Hemmans, Georgia Court of Appeals Docket No. A14A0326 (May 23, 2014) illustrates the reason why clients in family law cases should strongly consider a court reporter for a final hearing. In Blue , the Mother filed a petition to modify custody of her minor son. The son was living with the Father under a prior modification of custody order. At a final hearing, both parents testified. The Mother testified how Father had interfered with her exercise of visitation. She also testified that the son's school administrators told her that the Father had not provided the complete prior order resulting in her inability to participate in her son's educational activities. The Father objected to Mother's hearsay testimony regarding what the school administrators said to her.
In the final order, the court modified custody -- granting mother sole custody of the parties' son. Father appealed. The court vacated and remanded the case to the trial court. In its order the Court of Appeals found that the trial court's findings for the basis to change custody were not supported by the evidence. The trial court found that father had interfered on multiple occasions with the mother's visitation. But the testimony at the hearing was that Mother had not been able to visit with her son on only one occasion. The court also relied on Mother's hearsay testimony regarding what the school administrators told her.
Had the case not been reported, Father would likely not have been successful in his appeal.
Before going to a hearing, discuss with your attorney whether you should have the case reported. Here are some important points to consider:
- How much will it cost?
- Does the court have a court reporter available or will you or your attorney need to hire one? DeKalb County, Georgia does not provide court reporters for civil hearings. If you would like your case reported, you will need to hire your own court reporter. This is more expensive because it requires an appearance fee.
- Is it a temporary hearing? A final hearing? A motions hearing? The answer as to whether a court reporter is necessary may be based on the nature of the hearing.
As always, discuss any questions you have with your attorney.